Monday, 23 March 2009

IDE Failures and backups

For 80% of people, running backups is a non-event. We simply don't consider doing them, not because we are lazy but it just never crosses our mind. Fortunately I had a happy event last week - I ran a full backup of my beloved D610 Dell Latitude's hard disk and not 2 days later the bastard failed on me. It was then I found out how much harder it is to get IDE hard disks for laptops. The 40GB HDD in it was adequate for my purposes and the smallest I could find was 120GB. Now I know how easy it is to fill 120GB of disk with music or movies or whatnot, but in context, I store very little of such things on this notebook. It's for work, and for online stuff such as Google's services and apps. At any rate, I use the wonderful TrueCrypt (www.truecrypt.org) to create encrypted partitions and then use the equally handy rsync (or in a pinch xcopy) to incrementally back that data up across the network to my servers. 

I thought perhaps I'd share how I do this, using xcopy in a batch file and with the potential of using either an external USB device or whatnot. You can get *very* fancy, but in all honesty, any backup is better than no backup so here is the script (abridged for privacy purposes) that I use:

xcopy "z:\My Documents\*" "m:\My documents\*" /C/D/E/H/Y

You can see that I'm just backing up My Documents from one location to another. The first one, on the Z:\ drive is the source and M:\ is the backup. Easy! 
The switches do the following:
/C: Continues copying even if an error occurs
/D: Copies files changed on or after the specified date. If no date is given, copies only those files whose source time is newer than the destination time.
/E: Copies directories and subdirectories, including empty ones.
/H: Copies hidden and system files also.
/Y: Suppresses prompting to confirm you want to overwrite an existing destination file.

Pretty straightforward really. I run it manually at the moment, but plan to put a schedule in place once I get some error correction built into it. For example, if the M:\ drive is not available I don't want it to panic and grind to a halt, much better for it to gracefully exit.

Feel free to adapt it for your purposes if any. As I noted, it's better to have *some* sort of backups than none at all. This particular one of mine doesn't catch emails or the like, fortunately for me I use Gmail so it's not really an issue - all my emails reside on the Google servers (bless them!). For everything else, there's xcopy!

Friday, 13 March 2009

Review: Palm Treo Pro

As I mentioned in my previous post, I use a Palm Treo Pro for work purposes. I chose this phone for a very specific reason: we use an Alcatel/Lucent phone system and there are various integration technologies available (for both Windows Mobile and the Nokia Symbian OS) that I want to test and use in a production environment.

Having used the Treo 750 to great effect in my previous job, I hoped the new iteration would prove just as useful. Unfortunately I find this phone to be cumbersome and annoying at times - I will elaborate of course.

Visually the Treo Pro is slimmer and slightly smaller than the Treo 750 which is nice - the 750 was a pocketful by itself, whereas the Pro is slim enough to squeeze in with my keys. The screen is large and well lit and accuracy with the stylus has not been an issue. The touch screen is sensitive but not overly so and is quite responsive to the fingernail tap. Palm have added a wireless on/off switch on the side which I find to be redundant (you may not). I don't use the phone on our wireless network enough yet to find it to be wonderfully handy.

OK, here's the roundup:

Pros:
  • Windows Mobile operating system allows for excellent integration with Microsoft products
  • Browser is excellent
  • Many different methods of connectivity - bluetooth, 802.11 etc
  • Good call quality
  • Multimedia playback is pretty good
  • Threaded SMS/MMS - I loved this feature on the 750 and continue to love it on this device
Cons:
  • Crappy message tones (this can be fixed I know)
  • Phone has locked up several times and requires the battery to be removed to get it to work again
  • Keys on the QWERTY keyboard are hard to use quickly and easily
  • Unlocking the phone during a call to use handsfree is something I'm yet to master
  • Battery life is not impressive
  • Black case gets grubby looking quite quickly
  • Ringtones are soft, even when turned up to maximum value
All in all, it's quite reasonable, apart from my gripes above. I use it quite extensively to log work, fiddle with my calendar and email and it is adequate for all of those things. I think that some of the issues are to be placed at the operating system's door rather than the Palm hardware. It does seem to be reasonable hardware and the phone is much more compact than it's predecessor. I look forward to updating this review once I play with more of the features it has and the capabilities it has with the excellent Alcatel/Lucent phone system we have. Stay tuned!

Review: Nokia e66

Recently my beloved e61i perished in an unfortunate washing basin related accident. I was upset, more so because it was an expensive phone and only 15 months into a 24 month contract. Fortunately my SD card was undamaged and my photos and assorted other junk was safe - whew!

On to the topic of buying a new phone - firstly I had a list of requirements that it needed to match. The e61i provided email, wireless G networking and many other very nice features. I looked, therefore, at either the e71 - of which I've had one, or the e66 - the slide feature of which put me off a little bit. Having had an e71 for a short while as a work phone, I knew how lovely they were and enjoyed using one immensely. The full QWERTY keyboard was very nice and I liked it a lot. I was thinking of a smaller phone though - the e71, like it's predecessor was quite wide and hard to slip into a narrow pocket. So I investigated the e66. Here is a list of things I liked and don't like about the phone:

Likes:
  • The screen is large and lovely - the back light is bright and very easy to read. The swivel is excellent, although I note sometimes when I pick it up if I grab it on a funny angle it swivels on me and takes a second to adjust
  • keys are much better to use than on other slide models I've had before (N80 and the 6120).
  • The slide has an excellent feel
  • Aesthetically it's a nice looking phone - the grey steel look is very nice and the phone is quite compact and neat with the screen taking up nearly all the available acreage on the front. The keys on the upper part of the phone are back lit when in use and dark when idle and this is nice too.
  • Good call quality
  • Reasonable battery life - better than the e61i but not quite as impressive as the e71 (although that could be my faulty memory)
  • video / music replay is very good, the swivel feature is excellent for watching the various MMS clips I get
  • connection to the GSM/3G network is quite reasonable
  • 802.11 wireless connection works quickly and easily
  • Email set up is an absolute dream - I put in my Gmail address, user name and password and it did the rest for me! It set it up as an IMAP connection and even recognised my Google Application based domain for email as similar to my Gmail account. Excellent!
  • Speaker is quite good, even when on hands free
The bad:
  • Battery life, while good, is not as good as I expected
  • I have an unfortunate tendency to answer/hang up on people when I pull it out of the leather pouch it comes with - I'm not sure if this is bad design of where the lanyard connects or my clumsiness, or a combination of the two but it has happened on several occasions
  • The swivel is occasionally touchier than I would like.
Overall I'm finding this to be an excellent phone after a month of usage and recommend it to Enterprise users if the e71 is too bulky. I read a lot of email on this phone, but reply to very little so the lack of a QWERTY keyboard is not too much of a worry for me. I can still send emails / texts on it very quickly and find that doing it one handed is a *lot* easier than when doing it on the e61i/e71. It's compact, the slide feels firm and solid unlike the N80 I once had and it hasn't crashed on my yet. 

And it's also interesting to note that the price for the e61i was very expensive - about $1000 when I bought it, and the e66 (and the e71 for that matter) are around the $550 mark. Phones have certainly gotten cheaper.

I also use a Palm Treo Pro for work and the comparison between the phone is quite marked. I'll review the Pro in another post, but I will touch on a few points here that are worthy of note. Both phones are capable of email/802.11 wireless/viewing lots of things etc. The e66 is smaller, has a much more solid feel to it and is more reliable than the Pro has proven to be thus far. Not only that, I think the only thing that makes the Pro more useful to me is the touch screen and the integration I have with various Microsoft products that Nokia still needs to do some work on. At any rate, stay tuned for the review of the Pro!