Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Get your cholesterol checked!

[We interrupt the usual series of tech related posts for an important message.]

Get your cholesterol checked!!!

Without going into TMI, high cholesterol poses a serious threat for me. As evidence of a whimsical higher power, I am unable to tolerate statins or any other substance that improves one's lipid profile. In fact, I could make a living as a test subject. If I can't tolerate it, it's probably effective at controlling cholesterol.

Back in late 2004, my profile was total cholesterol(TC) 263, HDL 47, TC/HDL 5.60, LDL 186, triglycerides 152. At my sister's suggestion insistence, I tried Joel Fuhrman's Eat To Live diet. Six weeks later, TC 189, HDL 45, TC/HDL 4.20, LDL 128, triglycerides 82!

I knew what I should do to maintain the improvement. I was successful through 2008, when I had a test that showed that things hadn't changed since 2002. I also decided to stop having my cholesterol checked. Since there were no drugs I could use to manage it, there seemed little point in worrying about it.

That seemed like a sensible decision at the time. "My cholesterol will do what it will do. I'm already doing everything I can do. Why let myself panic and ruin my quality of life should things change?"

In retrospect, it was stupid. It assumed I would continue with healthy behavior! However, I'm human and, as one of my colleagues who ran an obesity clinic, once remarked, "Fear is good for about a year." It was certainly true of me. Over time, I got sloppy. I let the occasional exception (luncheon meetings, social get togethers) become the rule rather than the exception. The wake up call came this summer.

My lipid profile at the end of July was curious. While my TC was only 219, the way it got there was not good at all. HDL 34, TC/HDL 6.44, LDL 145, triglycerides 201. Very ugly HDL and triglyceride values. I decided to back to Fuhrman. What else could I do?

While I knew the Fuhrman diet would lower my cholesterol, I wasn't sure what it would do when the total cholesterol, while high, wasn't off the chart. I got rechecked after only 5 weeks rather than 6 because the sixth week would have taken me over the Labor Day weekend and I was afraid I might stray. The numbers are enough to make me wish I'd waited the additional week. TC 201, HDL 39, TC/HDL 5.15, LDL 135, triglycerides 135! (Not a typo. LDL and triglycerides were the same.)

There was movement. It was not as much as 9 years ago, but I'd only gone 5 weeks instead of 6. My plan now is to get retested at the start of October and again in early November before a cardiology appointment.

So, what have I learned from this that I would like to pass on?

  • It's very easy to think of treatment in terms of medications. I couldn't take medications, so I couldn't be treated. Wrong! As my lipid profile shows, now twice, diet alone can do much of what medications do.
  • If I'd kept on top of my cholesterol levels, I would likely have seen hard evidence of the effect of what my so-called exceptions were doing to me, long before my wake up call.

Anyone in a similar situation--cholesterol levels are an issue and medications aren't an option--shouldn't give up. If I can do fine with careful monitoring of diet and lipid levels, then anyone can!

Monday, July 8, 2013

My final words on backup and synchronization...really! any organized fashion. If I comment further in the future, it will not be because I am trying out many services simultaneously to assess pluses and minuses. It's too stressful and I'm at a point where I've found something that works for me.

So here they are, those final words:

  • Every system has strengths and weaknesses that change from moment to moment. Just recently, Copy managed to break the system that worked for synchronizing folders outside of the folder. Will it get fixed? I won't be following it. If you're curious you'll have to check their website, this link in particular.
  • Many of these systems are new, with even more systems coming online as they sort themselve out to determine who will survive, who will fail, and who might dominate. It is almost impossible for a single individual to keep up unless that person is either compulsive about it (I'm compulsive, but not that compulsive) or being paid to do it. (I am not.)
  • Dropbox works just fine. If it will meet one's needs, use it. The only downside for me is that everything to be synchronized must reside in the Dropbox folder it creates. This means that I can't separate my work files from my personal files. Also, anything being synchronized is backed up online. Since charges beyond the initial 2 free GB are determined by the total number of bytes, Dropbox can be expensive for large music or photo libraries.
  • Having gone through its startup stage, LetMeIn's Cubby continues to have its fans for two reasons:
    • It allows a user to synchronize any folder, not just the My Cubby folder.
    • The paid version allows unlimited syncing between any number of computers without having to store the files online.
    I like it myself, but there are things that drive potential users away.
    • One is that it does not use delta sync for individual files. If a large file is modified, Cubby uploads the whole file again rather than just the parts that have changed. (Actually, I like this having been burned by Dropbox's delta sync when it failed to recognize that a file had been changed. However, I might not feel the same way if I were dealing with file sizes in the GBs.)
    • Another--the one that got me to abandon Cubby--is that that Cubby appears to be constantly grabbing 3 to 10% of a CPU's processing power. There has never been a good explanation of what it is doing.
  • I'm currently using Bit Torrent Labs' Sync to sync whatever folders I choose on whichever computers I choose. I have some folders synchronized between my work computers only, others synchronized between my personal computers only. and others synchronized across all of my computers.
  • BTSync does not provide online backup. If I accidentally erase a file or folder from one computer, it is erased from all of my computers. I set up an external hard drive attached to my home desktop computer, which is backed up automatically on a regular schedule. This drive is not linked to BTSync, so I'll always have a backup that is current to the last time it was run.
  • I am becoming more and more paranoid about the ultimate disaster that might take away all of the drives at once. For example (knock on wood), there might be some kind of a natural disaster. I'm considering some form of online backup, if only of the most important files that I'd never be able to recreate. Even though I have never used it, Carbonite seems to be a viable option, although if Cubby would get its act together... I'd much prefer having a single service than many services running simultaneously.

So, here I stand. I'm always open to other options, but now it's time for other projects, such as Windows 8.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Windows 8 (mis)adventures: (Re)starting grinds to a halt!

When you get a Windows 8.0 computer, you will undoubtedly be asked to install updates...and your system may grind to a halt whenever it is (re)started. It *will* (re)start, but it may take 20 minutes or more. No, it's not your computer. It's Windows 8. The problem has been around for quite a while. It's a crime that Microsoft hasn't fixed it by now, but presumably it will go away with Windows 8.1 this August.

The problem is with one of the updates. The KB2770917 update will appear to stall at about 13%. Wait 20 minutes (or more? Go to dinner.) and it will eventually appear as though everything is updated, only the update has failed. The computer will now be sluggish to (re)start to the point where you'll be tempted to return it as defective.

Here's a work-around from the Microsoft Answers website that worked for me.

  • Press windows key + R at the same time to open Run command.
  • Type in "msconfig.exe" (without quotation marks) and press enter
  • Go to the Services tab on the top.
  • Check the box on the bottom that says hide all Microsoft services (This will allow you to disable all non-Microsoft services easily.)
  • Click Disable all (This will disable all third-party services but allow all Microsoft services to run.)
  • Restart the computer
  • Install update
  • After installation, follow the same instructions but click enable all instead of disable all and restart again and everything should be good.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Windows 8 (mis)adventures: Oops! Can I have that back, please?

Remember the delete confirmation dialog?

"Are you sure you want to move this file to the Recycle Bin? (Yes/No)

I say "remember" because in Windows 8 it is a thing of the past. You press Delete and you delete! Many might see this as an advance. How many times have we clicked on or pressed Delete to be asked, "Are you sure you want to move this file to the Recycle Bin?" only to have the thought cross our minds, "Why do you think I pressed Delete?!"

I thought it was cute the first few times I clicked on delete and saw files disappear without further prompting, but it quickly started making me nervous, especially with trackpads that make hair-trigger responses for us. I think of the dialog as like the guard on a power tool. Most of the time it's unnecessary or an annoyance, but if it weren't there the one time you really needed it...

It's a trivial matter to restore the prompt. Right click on the Recycle Bin, choose Properties, and check the box that says "Restore delete confirmation dialog". All done!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Windows 8 (mis)adventures: Some Unprintable Words About Printers

If I were starting out today, I'd have no problems with printers. I'd get a printer that could be networked, network it, and that would be that. I suppose I could disconnect everything, network the pieces as though I were starting fresh, and have no problem, but it's sooooooo easy to stick with what one has! (As I type this, I'm getting tempted to do it even though I resolved my latest issue!)

I got my first printer before there were were networks to network it into. It is connected directly to my desktop PC. All of the laptops in the house access the printer wirelessly through the desktop. This was easy to do when all of the computers used the same version of Windows. Today, the desktop uses XP. (It's old, but it's rock-solid with a quad-core processor, works just fine, and meets my needs.) Each new laptop brought a new iteration of Windows--there was 32 bit Win 7, 64 bit Win 7, and now 64 bit Win 8--bringing its own set of issues. In each case, it was a painful experience that took hours and, when I was done, I was never sure what it was that I did that eventually got things working.

Once again (with Win 8) I went through the exercise, but I may finally have a sense of what's going on. I can't provide a detailed flow chart that guarantees results, but I can describe some things that cost me a few hours each trying to resolve. (At least, they felt like a few hours each. The grief certainly took a few years off of my life...each!}

  • Be sure the printer is set up to be shared! Go to Printers & Faxes in the Control Panel of the computer to which the printer is physically connected (the host computer). Right click on the appropriate printer. Go to Printer Properties. Click on the Share Tab, and put a check mark in the appropriate box.
    • Be sure the the latest printer drivers are installed on the host computer. This may have been what was causing the problem with Windows 8. When a new computer seeks to use the printer wirelessly, it downloads the drivers from the host computer.
    • Recheck the share status of the printer. Permission to share the printer may be rescinded at part of the installation process when drivers are updated.
  • OTOH, the Windows 8 issue might have been this. (I say "might" because I did this before the previous step. In the end, I ended up doing them both, so I'm not completely sure what got everything to work, especially in light of the next step! Were I to start all over again, I would leave this step last.)

    I tried getting the latest driver onto my Win 8 laptop by downloading it from the manufacturer's site. However, the only way the installation program would run is if the printer was physically connected to the laptop. So, I connected the printer to the laptop, installed the drivers, and then uninstalled the printer (through Devices & Printers) without uninstalling the driver.

    This step may have been unnecessary had I performed the previous step first, but I don't know for sure so I list it "just in case".

  • When all the steps have been accomplished and the printer still doesn't work, Restart the computer(s)! I'm so accustomed to having software tell me when it's necessary to Restart, that I don't restart unless I'm told to. However, the only thing I did between the last failed attempt to print a test page and the first successful attempt was to restart the computers.

I don't know if this will solve all issues, but I'm not dreading the next time nearly so much as I have in the past.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Microsoft is getting it right with Windows 8

As I threatened earlier, I'm about to start a series of posts about my (mis)adventures with Windows 8 while they are fresh in my mind. However, I wanted to start off with a short introduction.

I admit it! I bought into the press's feeding frenzy about how Windows 8 was terrible, how the user interface was confusing, how Win 8 was unsuitable for computers without touch screens, and so on. Oh, and how Microsoft (aka M$) is the great Satan. But, I had occasion to get a new computer to familiarize with Windows 8 and I like what I see.

It struck me that Windows 8, with its two interfaces (tiled and desktop), is what MS needs to remain viable. It used to be that the big war was between MS and Apple. Apple won a good chunk of the market, but MS pretty much ruled the roost. Linux has such a small percentage of the market that neither Apple nor MS had anything to fear from it. But, now there's Google's Android and a whole new pricing scheme dictated by the iPhone and Android. Tablets will soon be outselling laptops (if they haven't already) and MS is threatened with becoming another Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC)--great in its day, but no longer relevant.

The dual nature of Windows 8 (tile an desktop) will insure its success.

In many ways, I'm a typical over 30 user who's gotten very used to Windows' desktop interface. Small tweaks are okay, but anything more than that would have me sticking with what I already know. Windows 8 with only a tiled interface would never fly. (Even if I were to consider a tiled Windows, I've got 4 tablets--two Android and two Kindles, which use Amazon's version of Android. What do I need with another tiled interface and having to buy my software all over again?) OTOH, anyone under 30 is going to look at a Win 7 type of interface with disdain.

It is often hoped that when two thing are merged, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. That's the hope. Windows 8 may be one of those rare instances where the hope is realized. A Windows 8 that can be run as either a modern tiled interface or a familiar desktop-styled interface means that anyone can use it effectively by using only the parts that work for him or her! Anyone who grew up with Smartphones is immediately using Win 8's tiled interface. I go to my desktop, which behaves very much like Win 7. However, the Win 8 tiled interface is there for me to play with as the mood strikes me.

Windows 8 is not a kludge of two interfaces but an integrated system to woo over younger users with its tile interface while allowing long time users to remain comfortable with their desktops.

Microsoft did make one huge mistake with Windows 8 when it removed the Start button from the desktop interface, but it is to be restored with the free Windows 8.1 upgrade due out in August.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Back up your computer!

I've been using PCs for 30 years and I was terrible about backing up my work until the last few years*. I admit it. BUT, I have an excuse. I've been using computers for 30 years. In the early days, backing things up was a major undertaking, so it often didn't get done. Once you get into any mindset, it's hard to get out of it. Today, there's no such excuse**.

You are reading what follows at your own risk. I accept no responsibility for what you might do after reading this post.

Sorry for the scare tactics. Backing up your files is A Good Thing (tm), but it is possible to get into all sorts of trouble.

I use SyncBack. When I was looking for backup software years ago, I went to their user forum to get a sense of the program. I found a post in which the writer complained that the software had erased her entire hard drive. And yes, it's possible. However, she had to do the software equivalent of a Rosemary Woods to do it. She likely accidentally configured the program to erase her files, but the program told her that it was about to erase them. It then asked for confirmation...and she gave it! Was it the user's fault for ignoring the warnings or did the program confuse her? Some might argue that a user should have to jump through so many hoops to erase an entire drive that even the least sophisticated user could not do it by accident. In any case, you might want to find your own software by running a search for "Windows backup software".

There are a few points to consider.

  • Backup medium: If you can afford it...the Cloud! which is just a fancy name for someone else's file server. For most of us with large amounts of data to back up, the solution will be a hard drive of some sort, although a large flash drive might suffice depending on one's needs. Since I was concerned with backing up my desktop, I chose a large external drive with its own power supply so that I don't tax the computer's motherboard and USB ports.
  • File format: Many programs use proprietary formats. This supposedly allows them to be faster and more efficient. Maybe it does, but it also means that the files cannot be recovered without the software that backed them up. This poses a problem if the backup software itself is compromised or when restoring to s different computer. SyncBack stores files in their original format as though the files and folders were dragged-and-dropped to the backup medium. But, that's me. YMMV. Rumor has it that Windows 7 may have all the backup tools one needs.

Like Nike says, "Just do it!" You will rarely need to access the backup, but when you do, you will be so glad it's there. And should disaster strike (spilling your coffee into the keyboard, dropping your computer or having it stolen, or having the hard drive fail), you will thank your lucky stars (and me?) that all was not lost.

*I wasn't a complete reprobate. My backups were spaced months apart rather than days, and most of my files were duplicated on my home and office computers. Still...

**There is a new own, however. Many use only a notebook or netbook of some sort. They are rarely connected to the backup hardware. Don't let it be your excuse. Resolve that whenever you charge your computer overnight, you'll plug in your backup device, too. (Maybe Sunday night?) Wireless backup will eventually resolve this issue if it hasn't already.

Synchronizing files across computers: new and noteworthy!

[I found this in Drafts. I meant to post it on June 14, but got interrupted. So, here it is now.]

I'll skip the narrative other than to say that I was shocked (no exaggeration) to find out that Syncbox was changing the time stamps of files to the time it was transferred. I ripped it off of my computers immediately.

I began giving AeroFS another try, but one thing I don't like about most synchronization services (including AeroFS) is having to move files into a single folder controlled by the service. It also means that when the folder is synchronized with a folder on another computer, everything is synchronized. Also, most services require that files be backed up on their servers. While all of the services are happy to provide a free account, they are hardly large enough for even moderate sized music collections.

BitTorrent Sync (BTSync) has the potential to solve these problems. BTSync is a peer-to-peer solution that lets the user specify which folders are to be synchronized on which machines.

  • Pick a folder to be synchronized.
  • BTsync generates a key.
  • Use the key to link the folder that generated it to folders on other computers.

While programs like BTSync do not require their users to buy online storage, it means that there is no online backup. A file that is erased from one computer is erased from every computer.

The world is evolving rapidly. The latest bunch of letters to learn about is NAS (Network Accessible Storage).

Last word on Syncing...for now (Yeah...sure...)

I may eventually get around to completing my re-reviews in "Syncing devices: June 2013 edition", but it may take awhile, a loooong while. I'm pleased if others find my experiences useful. However, I tend to focus on my specific needs rather than on things for their own sake, so information may not be as detailed as some would like.

I think (I've said this before!) I'm where I need to be at the moment and my next project (tackling Windows 8!) awaits. So, here's where I'm stopping for a spell.

It's hard to be critical of Dropbox. Dropbox is the granddaddy of all of the synchronization/backup services and it does it all well. But, after a colleague's activities resulted in my computer being audited, I decided I needed a second service to use for business so that I could restrict my use of Dropbox to my personal needs. And so the journey began.

Most services create a special folder on one's computer (Dropbox creates Dropbox, Syncbox creates SyncFolder, and so on). File and folders to be synchronized or backed up are moved to that special folder. The more I investigated and used these services, the more it bothered me. I hate moving things around. If I could specify individual folders to be synced, I'd need only one service. I could separate work and personal files by backing up different folders on different computers. Many services are promising this feature, but there aren't many that have it, yet. I know of two worth mentioning.

After a rough start up that had me demanding (and receiving!) a refund for their Pro service, LogMeIn's Cubby has become a viable option.

Pluses worth mentioning

  • Backup on LMI's servers, up to the amount of space one purchases (5 GB free, %50/100GB).
  • Unlimited Direct Sync that does not get backed up. Just the thing for large music libraries. However, if there is no backup, then erasing a file from one computer erases it from all others, as well.

Minus worth mentioning: I'm not sure how much of a minus this is, but Cubby almost always seems to be doing something in the background that involves 3 to 6% on my CPU's processing power. I'm not sure what impact this is having.

Then there's BitTorrent's BTSync. It's free. It's much like Cubby's Direct Sync. The only downside I can see at the moment is that it doesn't provide for cloud storage.


  • I continue to use Dropbox for personal files, largely out of habit, but also because I like the feature that automatically uploads photos from my Smartphone to my Dropbox.
  • I continue to use Cubby for two work-related folders, but am having second thoughts.
  • I'm using BTSync to sync my music library between my desktop and laptops. I'm thinking of replacing Cubby with BTSync as I become more comfortable with BTSync.
  • Since BTSyc does not provide for cloud storage, I purchased a large external drive and configured my desktop computer to back itself up regularly. That way, if something bad happens, the worst it can be is that I lose files that have not yet been backed up.

I need to say something about backups. I will in another post.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I'd been using Syncbox to synchronize my mp3 files between my desktop and laptop. As part of a re-review of synchronization services, I've been double-checking them all only to find that Syncbox changes the time stamp on EVERY FILE from date last modified to the date copied! I don't kow how I missed this before. Likely because I seeded everything before running Syncbox. In any case Syncbox is being removed from my computers as I type this!

Monday, June 3, 2013

PC makers do sooooo not get it!

Today's Wall Street Journal is reporting PC Makers Fight Back Against Mobile Devices.

How will they do this? Why, with "much less expensive laptop computers that have touch screens for tablet-style operation", of course. Well, forget it. Time to sell short.

It's not about hardware. It's about software. Specifically, it's about software pricing. Long gone are the days of one user, one device. Multiple devices in the form of phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops (home and office versions for some) are becoming more often the rule. I have multiple laptops, notebooks, and desktops that are in active use. If I am lucky, a(n expensive!) piece of PC software will let me install it on any computer over which I have exclusive control. I expect this to become the exception as companies monitor installation and use over the Web. I have many programs that monitor installations, and one that, if I make the mistake of leaving it running on any one machine, refuses to run on any other machine. Thank heavens for remote access services so that I can shut it down when it is running on a computer I am not actually using at the time.

Let's contrast this with Android. All of my devices are known by the accounts they are signed registered with. The Google Play Store (nee Market) knows my devices by Gmail account. Amazon's app store knows me by my Amazon account. I have four tablets and three smartphones. When I buy an Android program (most of them costing less than the sales tax on a comparable PC program!) I can install it on any Android device I own. Just knowing I can do that is worth a great deal to me. Getting a new device? No worries. Just enter my Gmail and Amazon accounts and everything is available. Try doing that with a PC.

So, PC makers, you may get me to buy a Windows 8 device if I need it for something I can't do with my other hardware, but give up Android? This is "fighting back"? Well, I suppose if you're trying to break the other guy's fist with your chin...

Syncing devices: June 2013 edition

As long as this notice appears, this is a work in progress. I will be reevaluating many services that keep PCs synchronized. I will be reporting on each service as I consider it, rather than wait 'till the end to report on all of them at once.

When necessity dictated a few months ago that I find a method of synchronizing my PCs to work along side of the venerable Dropbox, I found, literally, a half dozen new services just entering the market. I reviewed them as best I could and came up with a(n interim?) solution that proved serviceable. Things were evolving so rapidly then as the services shook their bugs out that I ended up relying on one product that I originally found entirely unacceptable! Since two months has elapsed since those investigations, the time seems ripe to have another look.

Everyone will have his/her own criteria for choosing a particular service. These are the ones that turned out to be important for me. I list them because these are the lenses through which I'm making my evaluations. As they say on the Internet, YMMV.

  • Are files kept synced, without noticeable lag time for small updates?
  • Are the time stamps right? Many services were stamping files with the date they were synced rather than the date they were last modified. (Imagine twenty years worth of memos with the same time stamp!)
  • Can synced directories reside anywhere on a drive or must they be subfolders in a folder specific to the syncing service?
  • When a folder already exists on multiple machines, will the service recognize this, or will it insist on copying everything over from what it identifies as a "master" version? This is not an issue for a few gigabytes of files but can loom large when music libraries of tens of thousands of files and hundreds of gigabytes are involve.

So, here we go...

  • Jottacloud: No change. I copied a multi-level directory with 4,000+ small files (mostly html). I then installed Jottacloud on another machine and checked to see if any of the downloaded files were tagged with the time they were copied rather than the time they were last modified. Just 1, darn it! An executable.

    It struck me that I should run the same directory through all of the services.

  • Dropbox: No problems.
  • Cubby: No problems.
  • Syncbox: OMG!!! Syncbox is changing the time stamp on EVERY FILE! I don't kow how I missed this before. Syncbox is being removed from my computers as I type this!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Syncing update

Enough has transpired that an update seems called for.

Dropbox works as it's always worked. The reason I am investigating other options is that I need to sync work computers and personal computers separately and together in a way that truly personal information does not appear on work computers. I'd been using Dropbox on my personal computers, so I need something else for my work computers.

Neither Copy nor AeroFS was syncing reliably. I found myself waiting for an hour for Copy to propagate a few small files. AeroFS, given all night to do something similar, still hadn't done it by morning. Two computers had different contents in their AeroFs file. AeroFS was showing that no file transfers were taking place.

I'm currently using

  • Dropbox (personal),
  • Cubby (work + personal), and
  • Syncbox (music files).

What I don't use, and why:

  • Copy, did not sync reliably.
  • AeroFS, did not sync reliably.
  • Google Drive, had trouble with certain file types.
  • (Microsoft's) Sky Drive, does not work with Windows XP.
  • Box Sync, changes file modification dates to the time it transfers a file.
  • Mozy does not let you delete folders from its website. Files have to be deleted one at a time. I found this out the hard way when I went to clean out my account so that I could start fresh,
  • SugarSync. When I tried syncing two folders with the same content, it copied the files from one computer to the other, modifying the file name to indicate a conflict. I ended up with two copies of each file except that one had a "conflict" designation in its name.

On the horizon

  • Jottacloud is to introduce its syncing feature this week.
  • Spider Oak deserves further comment and investigation because of its strong stance on privacy.

If I stay with it, Syncbox will deserved a few paragraphs of its own.

More to come, later this week or early next week. If not the final chapter, then at least the season finale.

Monday, March 25, 2013

A pox on (almost) all their houses--updated! (The houses that provide software for syncing computers.)

Once I was a happy Dropbox user...and then HE came into my life! (Oh, wait, that's the setup for "Niagra Falls".)

Once I was a happy Dropbox user. Then, the University decided it wanted to image my hard drive. No problem. Go for it! It's your computer, after all. Except...uhm...NOT MY DROPBOX. It's got a lot of personal information.

It turned out that the University wanted only specific parts of my hard drive, so Dropbox was saved this time. But, what about next time? I like using Dropbox to keep my personal files synchronized, so I went looking for another service to deal with work files. And I checked them alllllllll.

I started seeing problems, but many site were still in their beta stage and stuff happens. No site is perfect. Some of this is to be expected. However, every site has major shortcomings to the point where I'm disgusted with nearly all of them!

  • Dropbox works. I've occasionally had trouble working on Powerpoint files while they sit in Dropbox. I now move them out of dropbox to work on them and move them back when I'm done.
  • Cubby works but has the annoying habit of using a small portion of the CPU almost constantly. I haven't figured out what it's doing.
  • SugarSync: When two computers were seeded with the same folder, SugarSync failed to recognize that the files were identical. In trying to reconcile them, SugarSync created a host of files on one computer with file names that included "copy conflicted with [the name of the other computer]. AVOID
  • Google Drive chokes on some file types.
  • Skydrive. Will not work under Windows XP.
  • Jottacloud. Sync feature have not yet been introduced.
  • Copy does not sync reliably for me. Some changes sit on the computer where they were made without propagating to other computers. DO NOT USE! Box Sync changes file modification dates to the time the file was transferred to a particular computer. DO NOT USE!
  • AeroFS was to be my hope for syncing 120+ GB of music files between my desktop and laptop computers. After a lot of effort, I've finally abandoned it. It wasn't syncing!
  • Syncbox works! It lets you designate one of your computers as a server, giving you your own personal Dropbox service. I'm now looking to see how much of a toll it takes on system performance.
  • Box Sync. AVOID, AVOID, AVOID! (Did I say, "AVOID?") Box Sync changes file time stamps when it moves a file to a different computer. In the picture at the top of this post, you can see what happened when I transferred a directory of files from my home computer to my office computer. On the right, Cubby (or most any other sync program). On the left, Box Sync? Notice the difference? Check the time stamps.

    I suppose that to be fair I should mention that Cubby and Copy had the same problem until I pointed it out to them. They both corrected the problem. I have no doubt that eventually Box Sync will fix it, too, but, until then AVOID, AVOID, AVOID! (Did I say, "AVOID?")

For more details, see my earlier posts.

Friday, March 22, 2013 handles multiple folders, but is it a band saw with no hand guard?

This post will be TMI for most readers who stumble across it, but it's important for anyone who is investigating the many sites that synchronize computers automatically.

[This post may be moot. I'm finding Copy is not syncing reliably. I've edited and added files on one computer that have taken ages to show up elsewhere, if at all. So, as of the moment (11:55pm, 2013-03-24), Copy is on my DO NOT USE list. This is one of those problems that I may not go back to check on if I find other services that work as I expect and fill my needs.]

DISCLAIMER: I have done my best to insure the accuracy of these instructions. However, I cannot guarantee that they will behave as described. Even if they behave as described, it is no guarantee that they will continue to behave this way in the future. I am not an employee of Barracuda Networks. I have no special knowledge of Copy beyond what I have taught myself by using it. I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY DAMAGE THAT MIGHT RESULT FROM FOLLOWING THESE INSTRUCTIONS, EVEN IF THEY ARE FOLLOWED TO THE LETTER. In other words, trust no one and verify everything. I urge (warn!) you to try these instructions out on small unimportant folders to determine whether they produce the expected result. The existence of this disclaimer underscores why great care must be exercised in using links.

You may know that synchronization services are of two types: single folder and multiple folder. Single folder services create a special folder on one's hard drive. Everything to be synchronized, both files and folders, are moved into this special folder. Multiple folder services allow users to synchronize folders anywhere on their hard drives.

Copy appears to be a single folder service on the surface, but makes it very easy to synchronize multiple folders by creating shortcuts to the folders and moving the shortcuts into the special Copy folder established by Copy. However, like using a band saw without a hand guard, disaster can strike if one is not very careful. Things must be done in just the right order.

Here is the underlying principle: When folders are linked, their contents are NOT merged. Rather, the contents of the folder linked second replace the contents of the folder linked first! This is not an issue if both folders have the same contents. However

  • if a populated folder is linked to an empty folder, both folders will be populated, but
  • if an empty folder is linked to a populated folder BOTH FOLDERS WILL BE EMPTY!

To link folders outside of Copy,

  • On each computer create a shortcut to the folder you wish to link. The folders need not have the same name nor be in the same location. Once the shortcuts are created, change one or both of the shortcut names as you choose so that they are the same. Let's suppose I have a folder named Laptop on my laptop and Desktop on my desktop. I create shortcuts to the folders on their respective computers and change both names to Everywhere.
  • While both computers are logged into Copy, move the shortcut to the folder whose contents are unimportant to that machine's Copy folder. If I want the contents of my desktop's files to be synchronized, the Everywhere shortcut on my laptop is moved to my laptop's Copy folder.
  • Go to the other computer. QUIT COPY! Go to the Copy folder and delete the link that Copy moved from the other machine. It looks like a link but is really a folder that is a copy of the folder on the other machine that the shortcut points to. In my case, I would have QUIT COPY on my desktop and deleted the link to Everywhere from the laptop placed in the desktop's Copy folder.
  • Move the link to the folder whose contents you wish to preserve to the Copy folder on the second machine. I would move the Everywhere link I created on my desktop to my desktop's Copy folder.
  • Restart Copy on the second machine. The contents of the folder on the second computer will be moved to the first, if they are not already there. I would restart Copy on my desktop. Whatever is in the folder that everywhere points to on my desktop will now appear in the folder that Everywhere points to on my laptop's folder.
  • From now on, changes on either computer will be replicated on the other.

FWIW, I use Copy and have used the shortcut facility in the past, but I'm not doing so at the moment. This may make me go back to using it again.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Synchronizing computers and other devices:
Dropbox et al., et al., et al.

[A straightforward summary and update of previous posts (now deleted) without any shaggy dog stories, rants, or parenthetical journeys.]

The Problem: You have two or more computer or other devices with files and folders you wish to keep synchronized (or synced).

The Solution: There are too many solutions! Hence, this post. If your needs are modest, you can get a free 2 to 5 GB account. No credit card required. All you need is an email address. Even a throwaway address will do. Providers hope to transform you or your company into paying customers when your needs outstrip what you can get for free.

Services that provided only backup have introduced syncing to the point where there is only one backup service (Jottacloud) and it to is promising that syncing is comeing "real soon".

Each service is either

  • single folder, where the files and folders to be backed up or synchronized are moved into a special folder created by the service, or
  • multiple folder, where the user gets to specify the folders that are to be synchronized. (I don't know of any multiple folder backup services.)


Synchronization is backup plus more. Files are not only backed up automatically, but they are also synchronized. That is, when a file is added, deleted, or modified, these changes are automatically propagated to every computer connected to the account. Peer-to-peer sites synchronize files without backing them up on the site's servers.

There has been an explosion of synchronization sites.

Single folder sites include:

  • Dropbox, the granddaddy of them all. It has a highly polished feel to it. The user interface is straightforward, for the most part. Dropbox was my first exposure to this service. It became indispensable the moment I installed it. It offers only 2 GB of free online storage compared to the 5 GB of most other services.
  • Mozy has been around for a few years. Their Stash is yet another single folder synchronization service.
  • Google Drive (Google) and Sky Drive (Microsoft) are sinilar services offered by Google and Microsoft, respectively.
  • Perhaps it's premature to list them bu Jottacloud is a backup only service that had been promising synchronization "real soon now". It is based in Norway, where privacy laws are strict. As a new company, it is sometimes amusing to see webpages that ought to be in English sometimes show up in Norwegian. [Update 2013-03-22: Yesterday, I received an email saying that syncing is imminent. This gives me a lot more assurance than a comment on a website.] I'm not sure whether this will turn out to be single folder or multiple folder.
  • And how could I have forgotten Where Dropbox is the granddaddy of all synchronization services, Box is the grandaddy of backup sites. Box has now introduced "Box Sync". It is another case where all time stamps are changed to the current date whenever files are transferred to another computer. This is a fundamental mistake that would cost at least a letter grade in an intro computer science course! Avoid this service until this is fixed. I will not be monitoring the situation, tho, as I don't get paid for this and life is too short to begin with. You'll have to check for yourself, if you care. If someone sends me an update, I'll note it here.

Multiple folder sites include:

  • Cubby. Cubby was not terribly responsive to users during its beta stage. It alienated a lot of beta users, myself included. Things got so bad that I demanded a refund and received it. However, as time goes on, fixes get implemented. The technical problem that caused me to leave has finally been repaired. Cubby's user interface continues to make it a strong contender. It may be difficult to find how to use certain features, but this is true of every site. However, Cubby shines in telling users how files on various devices are linked together. With other multiple folder sites, it may not be clear whether adding a folder on an additional computer will merge the contents or delete all but what is in the latest file.

    There is a mystery surrounding Cubby. It is always doing something. While Dropbox is sitting there doing nothing, Cubby, with just as little to do, is constantly using 3 to 7% of my CPU. I don't think it's evil. It's just using resources for no apparent reason.

  • SugarSync behaves like Cubby. While it has been around since 2004, it has issues that would be surprising for a new entrant to the field. On 2013-03-18, I tried using it in place of Cubby to manage two folders on three computers. Since Cubby had been managing them, hey were already synced. Not only did SugarSync change the date on every directory to yesterday, but also it failed to recognize that the folders on one machine were the same as the others. All of its files were copies to the other machines. Since the names were the same, SugarSync added (from [other machine]) to the file name. Then, to top it off, seeing these "new" files on the other machines (new names), it copied them back to the original machine! As of now, definitely a program to AVOID.
  • Spider Oak probably doesn't get as much press as it should. Its primary claim to fame is security. Every(?) site encrypts their stored data. However, it is possible for site personnel to decrypt files if it were necessary, say, under a court order. Not so with Spider Oak. A great place to store documents you send to WikiLeaks. However, if you forget your password, there is no way to recover the files regardless of its value or importance.
  • I'm not sure how to classify Copy. It's a single folder service that has a way to sync folders outside of Copy's Copy folder. I don't care for it, tho', because it's hard to remember what is synchronized with what. With user friendly sites like SugarSync and Cubby, Copy's procedure for linking folders outside of its own Copy folder is unnecessarily convoluted. It is not for someone who thinks computers should be the ones doing the work.
  • Bitcasa is yet another service. It claims to sync, but it does not sync computers. All of the computers link to the same file on the Bitcasa site. Such files are not available offline as is the case for a true syncing program.

Then, there are the peer-to-peer (P2P) services. They synchronize files with no online backup! The problem with P2P is that if a file (or folder) is accidentally deleted from one device, it's deleted from every device. If the second computer is a backup for the first, well...not anymore.

  • Cubby has this feature as part of its paid Pro service.
  • AeroFS is a free single folder P2P service. (I want to be careful here. It is P2P in that your computers can sync each other without having to store the data on AFS's servers. It does NOT make your computers part of a distributed network that services other users, too.) It is in beta release, so there may still be serious issues to be uncovered and resolved. However, it keeps chugging along and the staff is good about responding to posts in the support section of their website. Their latest goodie is the ability to wipe computers remotely, a very good thing if a laptop is lost, stolen, or strayed.
  • GoodSync is listed here for completeness. I don't know much about it. Where other sites offer free 2 to 5 GB accounts with full-featured access, GoodSync's free accounts "...can have 3 or less jobs...and 100 or less files and folders in each job", whatever that means. GoodSync is also unique in requiring a separate license for each computer.
  • I'm not sure where to put Syncbox (or iSyncbox, as the company is called), so I'll put it here. Syncbox lets you set up your own cloud storage.for free! A portable hard drive can be plugged into a computer (or router; I haven't tried it with a router, yet) to serve the same function as other services' cloud storage. I tried the simple experiment of erasing a file from my Syncbox and it disappeared everywhere. However, when I checked Events under the software I installed as part of Syncbox, I could click on that event and restore the file.

    Syncbox, like Dropbox and most other services, is a single folder solution. The files being synchronized have to be in a folder called Syncbox. At the moment, I find that the Syncbox (the program that lets a computer connect to your cloud) client has unpredictable effects on my system. I started with less than 1 GB to get a sense of it. There were no ill effects on my home network, but when I gave access to it from a computer at my office, the computer all but ground to a halt. I suspect this will be fixed in future updates but, for the moment, I'm not using it.

What I'm Doing

[Remember, this is the guy who thought Cubby was a great program...until it changed every time stamp it touched so that they were all the same!]

  • I'm using Dropbox to synchronize my smaller personal files (song lyrics, photos, and the like).
  • I'd been using Cubby to synchronize files between work and home, but I'm puzzled why Cubby is always running. I'll likely go back to it if the problem is ever resolved, but for the moment, after flipping a coin, I decided to use Copy (rather than Mozy Stash) instead. [Tried both Copy and Stash. Their problems are worse that Cubby's, so I'm back with Cubby. I will likely check out Jottacloud, when syncing comes becomes available, as well as Box.]
  • I'm using AeroFS to synchronize 121 GB of music files on my desktop and laptop. AeroFS is still being beta tested, so I'm backing up the files onto an external drive every so often. Because AeroFS is in still in beta with possibly unpredictable behavior, it is available by invitation only. If you're eager to try it and understand the risks, I'll be happy to send you an invitation...but only if you appreciate the risks and back things up properly.

A Small Request

IF, I say "if", after investigating some of these sites with their respective strengths and weaknesses, you decide to try

It gains me extra space for each referral. I'll remove the links once I've maxed out. Thanks!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Considerations when using synchronization services

After I was already home for my very extended Presidents' Day weekend last Thursday (2/14), I got a call from the office. My hard drive was going to be imaged because I was tangentially involved with a project that was being audited. I was not to touch my computer until the following Tuesday! Nothing like a call like that to make one rethink one's notions about privacy.

It is no longer uncommon for employees to use their office computers and Internet access for personal business. My institution's policy can be read as taking personal use as a given and limiting what is allowed rather than assuming it is forbidden except for carefully defined circumstances. ("Managers have the authority to limit the personal use of institutional systems. Such personal use cannot involve access to confidential data, interfere with work responsibilities, or place an undue burden on institutional systems.") Still, the computers themselves belong to the institution and the institution is free to do whatever it wants with them.

My first reaction was, "Go ahead." There's no porn or classified documents, but...but I would have liked the opportunity to scrub passwords from my browser, even though the browser itself is password protected. The notion of having to change every password was a real killer. I probably did not have to change them, but whenever there's even the possibility that a password is compromised, I change it.

And then it hit me...Dropbox! I'd been using Dropbox to simplify my life by keeping my active work files synchronized between my home and office computers. BUT, I'd also been using it to keep my home desktop and laptop synchronized, so a lot of personal information had found its way onto my office computer. There was my will, personal family correspondence, a lot of gospel music and lyrics, photos from last Christmas season,...

As it turned out, all that was needed was an image of the folder containing information about the project under review, but it was enough to make me truly realize and plan for how much work I'd have if the entire drive had been imaged. Dropbox could no longer be used to handle both my business and personal files. The obvious solution seemed to be to add another service so that one could be used to synchronize business files while the other synchronized personal files.

And so, the search began...

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sensitive trackpad whose cursor jumps apparently at random under Windows? A solution!

I like my latest Win 7 notebook--i7 processor, 500 GB hard drive. Its Windows score is 4.7, but that's because of the graphics subscore. The processor's subscore is 7.1! I really, really like it...except for the reason I wished I'd never gotten it--the trackpad! I couldn't type a sentence without the cursor jumping all over the place, placing words inside of other words and generally messing everything up. The trackpad is so sensitive that the slightest brush, no matter how light, registered as a tap. I suppose I might have been able to solve things by turning off the feature that registers a tap on the trackpad as a press of the left mouse button, but I've used that feature on every other netbook and notebook without incident. I didn't want to stop using it now.

Salvation came in the form of the free utility Touchpad Blocker, which turns off the trackpad for a set period of time between 0.1 and 3 seconds after a keyboard key is pressed. One of the program's options is to have a bell ring each time the trackpad is stopped. I left it on as an experiment, but I finally turned it off because of how often it was ringing.

The bottom line is that Touchpad Blocker turned this notebook into what it should have been in the first place.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Where *is* that file?!?!?!

One of the reasons I don't use an mp3 manager is that I don't think like an mp3 manager. I have lots of music files tucked away in all sorts of folders that make complete sense to me...or at least they did at the time I created them! Things get complicated further because not all of my mp3s are tagged properly or named in ways that suit mp3 managers. The same sort of thing applies to music lyrics and files for my professional work. Most files are stored under a person's name, but every so often I decide to store them under a project name.

This usually works fine. Colleague walk into my office and all of their projects and files are right there under their names. Except when they aren't. Maybe I created a folder for the project? Or, I put it under the lab chief's name? I sort of know what the file's called...

Enter the Everything Search Engine. It's a one trick pony, but, oh, what a trick, and, oh, how well it does it.

The trick is that Everything will locate a file by name (or fragments of a name!) faster than you can type it!

The way it works is simple. Most PCs today have hard drives that use the NTFS storage system, rather than the old FAT-32 or FAT-16. When Everything is first installed, it accesses and indexes the NTFS directory. When you type in the name of a file, Everything doesn't go searching the hard drive. It goes straight to its index. The downside is that since Everything looks only at the NTFS directory it does not have the capability to search by file content.

I've used Search Everything for years and recommended it to others. Lately, though, I'd become disenchanted. Everything seemed to be failing to locate files that I knew where there. In such cases, I'd go to the Everything directory in Program Files to erase the index (c:\Program Files\Everything\Everything.db). Everything would then recreate the index and things would be fine...until next time.

I began a search for a competing program and immediately noticed that Everything is being updated after a hiatus of 3 years and the developer is responding to questions in his web site's forum. I've loaded his latest beta version and have not had any trouble or missing files, so far.

Added in edit, January 23: Drat! The problem is still there. Recreating the database still fixes things, but the question is why it gets corrupted in the first place. I'm working through the forums to try to solve this. I'll report back as things develop.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

My ideal Android music player...found!

As I tried new candidates in my search for my ideal music player, I realized I left out an important criterion--looping capability, so I decided to start over from scratch rather than post an update. Just that I was about to post, my ideal-enough-that-I-don't-need-another player became available today.

My (not necessarily "the") ideal Android player must be able to

  • change tempo,
  • shift pitch,
  • change tempo and pitch while an mp3 is playing,
  • loop a section of a track,
  • the way a section to be looped is identified, and
  • either
    • have a thumb scroll or
    • come up as an option when an mp3 is selected from a file manager

I need the thumb scroll because I have folders with lots of mp3s. My Original Carter Family folder has the 250+ sides they recorded commercially. A folder of fiddle tunes contains more than 1400 mp3s. My file manager has a thumb scroll, so it doesn't have to be built into the music player.

I've come across:

  • Audioshift, which doesn't work with Android 4.0+ and has no looping capability
  • Audio Speed Changer Pro, which has no thumb scroll and does not appear as an option when I select a music file from my file manager
  • Maple, which doesn't allow pitch or tempo to change while a music file is playing looping.
  • Only recently, I found Music Speed Changer, which, until today met all of my critera but one--the way a section to be looped is identified.
    • Before today, MSC showed a waveform of the track being played with sliders that could be moved to mark the start and end of a section. There were also Start and End buttons that, when pressed, allow you to enter time in min/sec/msec.
    • I wanted something additional: an A/B switch. That is, I wanted to be able to press something when an mp3 is playing to mark the start of a section and again to mark the end of a section.

Music Speed Changer invites users to suggest additional features, so I wrote to Harald Meyer to suggest the A/B buttons. An upgrade was released today that includes the feature. So, as of today, with Music Speed Changer, I don't need any other Android music player!

I should add that Music Speed Changer works inside out from other players. Typically, one taps on an mp3 file from within a file manager to be asked to select the player to be used to play it. With Music Speed Changer, one taps on the "Import a Song" button inside the player to be asked to select the file manager to be used to locate it! It feels odd the first time it happens, but quickly becomes second nature.