You are here: Home » Archives for Michael

Beware the Daily Special

by Michael on January 18, 2013 · 0 comments

When it comes to your devices, impending danger can take many forms. So far we’ve seen potential catastrophe in the form of inquisitive toddlers who think all fish deserve to be together and multitasking moms who mistakenly bake their laptops at 350°F. This time, it’s a newbie waitress. Beware the daily special. Protect the stuff that matters.


Tis the season for new electronics. One study found that over half of Black Friday purchases were of new gadgets. What’d you find under the tree? New Android tablet? Supercool new Macbook Pro? Xbox? All are fairly expensive toys, and one of the defining things of electronic gizmos remains their vulnerability to most things in the world, just by nature of being increasingly technical pieces of tiny machinery that don’t get along well with gravity and liquids, powerful magnetic fields, rambunctious pets…and ever-curious kids.

Electronics have gotten a bit better at survival, at least. Many laptops come with antishock mechanisms that attempt to protect your hard-drive in case of a drop. Just this morning I knocked my iPhone off our loft railing, sending it sailing onto the coffeetable in the living room below. It was totally fine, but I probably wouldn’t have wagered on that outcome. It’s predecessor iPhone died after a short fall from counter to floor. Two iPods before that fell victim to the various liquids invariably involved with bike commuting.

Beyond a good case, your physical options to protect your device from the many and varied accidents of the world are limited. But fortunately, you can protect the most crucial aspect of those devices: your work, your data, your media. Fortunately, these days that stuff is portable. You can copy it and put it elsewhere, or a bunch of elsewheres in the case of cloud storage.

Sinking a laptop will probably always be an expensive mistake. Manufacturers aren’t terribly inclined to engineer away the effects of every unlikely accident: there’s just too many different possibilities.. But, the things you build with your shiny new tools, are easy to protect with just a tiny bit of effort with relatively minimal cost.

The sheer ease of file-sharing in 2012 is astounding but what might be even more shocking is the number of people who choose to download files like music and movies illegally. Despite steps taken to stymie file-sharing (exorbitant fines, the high-profile demise of upload site Megaupload, slicker detection algorithms to hunt out wrongly shared files, and, of course, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), millions of people all over the world are still doing it. According to an article from The Guardian, over 43 million people illegally downloaded songs in the UK alone during the first six months of the year. But the landscape overall is still largely unchanged; virtually everything you could possibly think of is available just as quickly and still without cost. File-sharing though seemingly innocuous, is a risky habit that makes you, your personal information and computer or phone susceptible to harm.

Let’s start off with the most obvious thing: malware. A study a few years ago found that nearly 20 percent of files downloaded from the internet, legal and illegal, contain some form of malware. This malware could come in the form of a browser-redirect code — in which you type in some URL and the malware sends you somewhere else — one that throws up bonus ads all over your websites or a virus even more likely to cause serious damage to your computer. A whole lot of malware exists to steal personal information from you: social security numbers, credit card numbers, passwords. It burrows into your operating system and does its thing most times without you even knowing about it.

If you’re using BitTorrent to illegally procure files, you’re possibly opening doors in your system for things to enter without your knowledge and therefore without your consent. That is, this is a problem within the torrenting applications themselves — which might be cracking open your security firewall without your knowledge — not necessarily the files themselves.

There’s two more points about file-sharing that get a bit less attention. The first is that by running a bunch of torrents, you’re you’re negatively affecting your machine’s performance and leaving less bandwidth for other applications to do important things, like back up your system. If you’re sharing a connection with maybe some roommates, this could be trouble. Or, what’s even worse, is if you’re on a sharing binge while on your work computer. A lot of stuff invisible to you might not be so much to your irritable IT guy. There’s not much more embarrassing than getting ratted out to the boss for stealing _The Hangover Part II_. Most companies also have No File-Sharing policies so if getting berated isn’t enough of a deterrent, getting fired should be.

Finally, if you’re illegally file-sharing, you might just get busted. It happens and the Recording Industry Association of America and the US judicial system are largely unforgiving. Stealing files is, after all, illegal. Granted, trouble is more likely to come your way via malware, but the law is most certainly not on your side. And if you’re going to dive into the murky seas of file-sharing, at the very least pack an anti-virus program. Or two or three.

I suppose it’s impossible to put a dollar figure on human frustration, the burning rage of hours or days worth of work, decades worth of memories, or the required seven years of past tax documents suddenly disappearing for no apparent reason into a piece of complicated computer hardware: a failed hard-drive. Maybe tally up the cost of smashed nearby household items? Frustration aside, there is actually financial accounting to be had in a data loss incident, and it’s not pretty.

A study done recently by researchers at Pepperdine University came up with some figures. First is the cost of hard-drive recovery. It can often be done by specialists — the near four-percent failure rate of hard-drives has created its own industry. The average cost for a non-rushed 160 GB hard-drive recovery is around $1,500. It can reach upwards of $3,000, depending on how fast you need it. This is also assuming of course that your data can even be recovered, which isn’t a guarantee.

So, you’re out $1,500 (plus a replacement drive), but that’s hardly the end of it. Let’s just assume your time is valuable, even if your dead hard-drive is used only for home applications or even goofing off. Data recovery takes time, and that means time without your computer — time away from projects, communication, whatever. The loss is going to cost you something in those days of getting caught up. Come up with your own figure but, generally, we’re racing upward quickly from that $1,500 in lost-time costs. The Pepperdine study estimates that, in a business environment, a hard-drive trip to a recovery firm will cost an average of $1,750 in lost productivity. So, now we’re at $3,250.

That’s a whole lot of money for not being backed up in the cloud. Which is the essential cost-effectiveness of online storage: guarding against the failures of personal hardware. Figure that something like Google Drive (previously Docs) is totally free up to five gigabytes. Every 25 Gb after that costs $2.49. Pretty cheap. A cloud storage product like Norton Backup offers a whole lot more — like automated backups, time machine features, on-point customer service, and beyond — for a bit more money, but a year of it for $24.99 is a steal compared to the few thousand bucks of a failure. Even without a hard-drive failure, drive upgrade costs — to new, faster, and higher-capacity products — will outpace cloud subscription fees easily. Storage technology is nigh impossible to keep up with.

In the grand scheme of cost-effectiveness, there’s also the issue of connectivity. With the cloud — backup, drive, or otherwise — all of your machines/devices can be connected at all times to one drive which is amazing. Add up the time and hardware needed to keep a set of shared files available to five computers at once at any time — assuming such a thing would even be possible — and you’ve easily surpassed that $24.99 (or even the non-special $49.99 for backup) a year. And once again, if frustration had an easy dollar conversion, the situation would look even more lopsided.

Find out what your stuff is worth here.

The FCC Plays Digital Mapmaker

November 13, 2012

If you jumped with joy when wireless providers began announcing service extensions into the subways of New York and Washington D.C., you most likely share space in the category of modern human society that absolutely must at all times be connected. If you’ve ever experienced anxiety when that special time comes around before takeoff when the airline [...]

Read the full article →

How to Ease into the Cloud

June 20, 2012

The cloud revolution would never have happened if it were something that consumers could only blindly jump into. Just think about that: one day you suddenly ditch your hard-drive and all of its many years of accumulated video, music, documents, software, and beyond, and trust it all to a hopefully very reliable broadband Internet connection [...]

Read the full article →

Why Science Needs The Cloud

April 11, 2012

Science has always been an inseparable part of a peculiar catch-22: certain sciences are limited by certain technologies, and certain technologies are limited by certain sciences. Let me explain. Ultimately, what makes any particular science better or more accessible than another is the evidence that makes it both provable and repeatable. And scientists across nearly [...]

Read the full article →

An American Cloud Story

April 2, 2012

For all its benefits, the cloud raises a particularly ugly specter of division. On the one hand, in large cities and with some amount of disposable income, fast internet is a fact of life like running water or electricity. It’s only when you step outside the benefits of lighting quick access that you might be [...]

Read the full article →

Privacy vs Security: The Modern Compromise – Part 2

March 13, 2012

Three of our regular In the Personal Cloud editors have been given the task to sound off about the Security vs Privacy debate. On the one hand, users want the ability to determine what pieces of information about themselves are accessible and to whom. On the other, users also want the ability to conveniently access their information [...]

Read the full article →

Top 5 Rules to Protect Your Files

December 13, 2011

1) Backup, backup, backup Simply, the best way to keep a digital file safe is to have another one. Or have lots of other ones. Most cloud backup providers keep many duplicates of your files stored in different physical locations on different file systems. An asteroid could land on a data center somewhere, and its contents [...]

Read the full article →