Are We Too Accepting of Information?

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 at 11:38 AM | Category: Business, Marketing, Meryl's Notes Blog, Shopping 5 comments

Even with all the gadgets I have and time I spend on the computer, I still look forward to reading the print edition of my local newspaper every morning. Recently, I saw an ad in the paper from a hypermarket (combination of grocery and department stores) that I’ll call CubeMart.

Normally, I don’t pay attention to ads, but this full-paged ad caught my eye because it’s misleading. The ad shows a customer’s shopping list and compares her receipt from two stores. What store first comes to mind that would be CubeMart’s competitor? Bull’s eye. It’d be another hypermarket.

Not in this ad. CubeMart decided to compare itself with a drug retailer that I’ll call CubeGreens. If there was ever a time to use the apple and oranges cliché, this is it. Both serve different purposes. I shop at those two stores in very different ways. When I go to the drug retailer, it’s usually to pick up a couple of items or grab things on sale. It’s walking distance from my house, so it comes in handy during an illness.

I certainly wouldn’t buy pull ups at the drugstore — not because I don’t have kids that need them — but because they’re almost always overpriced. Pull ups, laundry detergent, snacks, toiletries, medicine, plastic bags and nine other items appear in the two store receipts CubeMart used to show the customer would’ve saved 15 percent had she chosen CubeMart.

Even if CubeMart had used a direct competitor in the ad, I notice the fine print says prices may include special prices good through a certain date and they may not be representative of prices in other stores of the two chains. And, of course, it covers itself by saying that prices at CubeGreens may have changed.

This is a simple example of how companies can skew data to tell a story that reflects positively on their brand. Here’s another example. Every year, a popular news magazine publishes a list of the best schools in the U.S. Dig deeper and you’ll find plenty of stories reporting problems with the data used to create the list.

Many accept information without questioning them. This also happens with expert commentary, encyclopedias (both famous encyclopedias have published errors) and wordgraphics. (I call them that because they’re too wordy to be true infographics).

We’re overloaded with information, but we don’t have time to question it all. It requires we change how we absorb information and what we do with it.

Most of the time believing reported information is harmless. If a customer believed CubeMart’s ad and switched (still apples and oranges), the worst that can happen is the customer doesn’t save as much as money as she could have at the real competitor’s store.

When should we believe or verify the information we receive? How do we know what sources to trust?

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Backing up Data and SyncToy

Thursday, August 10th, 2006 at 9:52 AM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 6 comments

Maxtor 200 GB Shared Storage External Hard Drive NAS ( H01P200 )I have this Maxtor External Shared Storage External Hard Drive thanks to Nick Finck for telling me about it. I’ve been through hard drive deaths and crashes where it meant rebuilding the computer. I thought I was prepared the last time when I had dual drives, but Murphy’s Law found a loophole. We couldn’t boot from the second drive, but thankfully my data was still on it.

So another lesson learned, so I had to find another way to feel safe about my data. Online storage is too expensive. Some services are free, but don’t have enough space. Then Nick told me about the external drive. I wanted a separate drive for storing data only. No programs. No client. No operating system. Nothing that installs. Just a second home for data.

As soon as I got it, I copied all my data files over. I keep most of my data files in a special folder on my PC’s hard drive as well — so it makes it easier to back up the data. I say “most,” as not all programs allow me to select where I want the data to go. All Microsoft Office templates are stored in their default folders. Haven’t had the time to figure out how to change this.

Search for a Program to Sync Two Drives

Next step is to figure out how to sync up the two drives. Did research on software and some couldn’t do it because it’s an external drive. Then I found Novastor’s NOVABackup. I contact the company to ensure it’d work with my external hard drive and it does. I didn’t get around to buying it and unlucky for Novastor, Microsoft’s free SyncToy came along.

SyncToy is a simple application for copying, moving, renaming and deleting files between folders, storage cards, computers, and drives. You can do the following between two folders:

* Synchronize: New and updated files are copied both ways. Renames and deletes in one folder is repeated on the other.

* Echo: New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames and deletes on the left are repeated on the right.

* Subscribe: Updated files on the right are copied to the left is the file name already exists on the left.

* Contribute: New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames on the left are repeated on the right. Similar to Echo, except there are no deletions.

* Combine: New and updated files are copied both ways. Renamed and deleted files are ignored.

SyncToy Main Screen

I tested the app by using Echo as I didn’t want to risk the backup driving messing up the main drive. It did the job perfectly. Any new files I created and updated showed up on the backup.


Sometimes I work on my laptop, and when I do that I usually use Remote Desktop to get to the main PC and work on that hard drive. Using Remote Desktop is slower than connecting to the backup drive, so I thought I could connect to the backup drive instead. Whenever I work on the backup drive, the two drives could sync up and any work I do on the laptop will transfer to the PC.

The backup had stuff on it that I no longer had on my current drive. Echo only checks for changes since the last backup — so all the changes that occurred prior to using SyncToy wouldn’t be included.

So I deleted all the data files off the backup so I could start fresh. I copied the data files from the PC drive to the back up drive. Unfortunately, the copying was interrupted well into the transfer. I tried to compare the more important folders and find the untransferred data.

SyncToy ran synchronize that night. I checked it out in the morning and was mortified. All the folders on my main drive were empty. Folders were there, but data wasn’t. SyncToy sends deleted files to the Recycle Bin (whew), but the Recycle Bin was full and didn’t have everything (ack!). I opened the Z drive folders and the data was there (whew again). Wasted a lot of time doing CPR on the main drive.

I believe that because I had deleted everything on the backup, SyncToy decided to do the same to the PC drive. But it was strange that the data stayed on the backup. Shouldn’t they mirror each other?

Schedule SyncToy

No more Synchronize. Not going through that again. I returned to Echo and it’s been working great. The best part is that SyncToy runs automatically at a specific time (at night when I’m asleep) every night. Here are the steps for setting up a scheduled task:

* Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Scheduled Tasks.

* Click “Add Scheduled Task” and click “Next.”

* Browse for SyncToy (it should be in the list, if not — click “Browse”), select it, and click “Next.”

* Enter a name for the task (I called mine “SyncToy”), select how often you want to perform the task, click “Next.”

* Select the time and day to start the task and click “Next.”

* Enter your Windows login name and password of a user, so that the application can “get in.” Not a required step.

* Check the “Open advanced properties for this task when I click Finish” box and click “Finish.”

* In the “Run” box, add ” -R” (sans quotes and with a space before the dash) to the end of the link AFTER the ” and click “OK.”

Whatever set up you have in SyncToy will run based on the time and dates you selected. You should be able to backup data between your PC and the network drive. Do what you can to backup your important data as anything can happen from a crashed computer to a miscommunication with tech support that unexpectedly leads to a hard drive reformatting.

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Reporting Accurate Facts

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006 at 8:02 AM | Category: Business, Meryl's Notes Blog, Writing No comments

This was a fascinating story to write — Judge Rules Internet Surfing at Work Is OK — as I had an opportunity to interview New York City’s Law Department chief of labor and employment law.

She made it clear this was not a court case. Rather it was a case that went to the City’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. The office oversees disciplinary cases from city agencies.

The judge wasn’t as concerned about the Internet surfing as he was about the employee’s insubordination. The judge recommended a reprimand and the decision as to what to do was up to the Chancellor. On May 5, the Chancellor fired him.

That wasn’t the only story I was surprised to get right. When Google advertised Firefox with Google’s Toolbar, many sites reported that it was the first time Google ever advertised a third-party product. Not true.

The point here is not to show off my reporting skills — I’ve made plenty of mistakes, believe me — but to indicate that many Internet resources don’t always report accurate facts and we have to be careful.

I worked on a Microsoft story in which I wrote that the tool checks for copies when customers use Automatic Updates (along with the others listed in the article).

Automatic Updates was wrong. I could’ve sworn I got that from Microsoft’s news release, but I didn’t. It was from somewhere else on the Web (don’t remember where). So that was a quick and painless lesson in relying on certain sources. Painless because Windows Updates can be automatic.

Reporting something like the program is required not optional would be a a serious error.

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Backing up Personal Computers

Sunday, October 24th, 2004 at 5:12 PM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 15 comments

As a result of the Back up, back up, back up! entry, several have asked what and how to back up stuff on a personal computer since the article focused on business computers.

Backup on business computers is typically not the user’s concern unless it’s a small business. A business should have a policy in place for managing backups especially due to Sarbanes – Oxyley.

Four options for backing up:

* External hard drive

* CD-RW (CD rewriteable) drive

* Tape

* Network server

Two options for what to back up:

* Everything

* Data files (.doc, .xls, .db, .ppt, .txt, etc.)

Personally, I use an external hard drive (this is a 120 gig hard drive, they also have 20 gig, 40 gig, 60 gig, and 80 gig available. I suggest getting one that is 20 gigs bigger than your hard drive.). It saved me when my computer had to be reformatted a few months ago. Typically, the hard drive is supposed to be rebootable and load everything back exactly as it was before the crash.

Obviously, that didn’t happen. It worked out for the best because some of my system files were bad. The hard drive still had my data files and programs. First, I referred to my latest copy from Belarc Advisor. This is a free program that lists all the applications on your computer. Since I don’t have a CD of every program I use, this was handy.

Using this list, I reloaded all applications first starting with the most important working down to the least important. It takes time to load everything, so you won’t want to reload everything in one sitting.

As soon as an application was reloaded, I copied all of its data files from the external hard drive back on the computer. I try to keep all of my data files in as minimal folders as possible. That is where My Documents, My Music, and My Photos comes in handy, but I hate those names. For the most part, I have /docs, /media (with subfolders for music and photos), /sites (for Web-related docs).

Keeping data files in as few folders as possible makes it easier to keep them organized and to find them when you need to restore data.

Programs like Norton’s Ghost, AlohaBob, and NTI Backup Now are useful for creating and managing back ups.

Using a RW-CD and tape back up are also viable solutions. I prefer the external hard drive since I don’t have to use an external media like a tape or CD. No sitting around and waiting for the CD or tape to fill up and inserting the next one.

Thumb drives (portable hard drives) are helpful, but typically can’t hold enough if you have as much data as I do. It’s great for critical data and data that you need at all times.

When buying a USB drive, make sure you have USB 2.0 not 1.1 as most the drives require 2.0.

At a minimium, back up your data files – the products of your work. Have a copy of these file somewhere other than your hard drive. Ideally, I’d like to back up my data on a network server because:

* if my house were on fire (ptpthpthpth), the files are safe on a server located somewhere else.

* if the computer goes crazy and ruins everything in its path including the back up hardware, the files are safe on a server.

However, storage is not cheap enough for personal use just yet. I am sure it’s one of the future options we can expect to become a regular part of safe computing.

Next question?

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Back up, back up, back up!

Wednesday, October 20th, 2004 at 9:37 PM | Category: Meryl's Notes Blog, Tech 20 comments

This is not your typical lost data story. I was a good girl and I kept my files on the network drive just like the company recommended. The only thing I put on my hard drive was junk files – things that wouldn’t bother me if the hard drive crashed. But not on the network drive. The drives are backed up and even my PC has a local back up program. Can you see where this is going?

On Wednesday, August 25, I accessed my work from the network drive as always. I kept copies of my time report and my daily activities there. Since I was going to be out on August 26 for surgery, I saved everything and did the usual end of day sign out routine.

I returned to work on Wednesday, September 1 and accessed the drive through my ‘Favorites’ and got an error message. Thought nothing of it — figured the network was down or something. Eventually, I went into File Explorer and accessed my private network drive from there. Ah ha! They moved me to a new server. Fine, fine. Whatever.

Not fine! On that drive were two folders: /windows and /log. That’s it. Nothing else. I opened a ticket. Turned out the data wasn’t migrated from the old to the new server. Thankfully, they kept archived data for 30 days, so the ticket should take care of that.

Thursday, I went home early. My surgery wore me out after half a day. Friday, September 3, I had to go to the ER and ended up not returning to work until October 5. I checked the drive and nothing changed. I checked the ticket and it was closed! According to the ticket, the problem was resolved. My foot! I immediately contacted support and explained the ticket wasn’t resolved.

He asked for permission to remote control my PC. By all means. I watched him do all the things I had attempted. He passed the ticket to a specific group. I kept checking on the ticket and emailing the contact. I heard stuff like it’s past 30 days so it may not be archived. Well, hey, I reported the problem within five days of the last time it worked! Why wasn’t it properly resolved while I was out?

If you work for support or have worked for them – don’t get me wrong, I am married to a guy who has worked in it and managed it. I’ve lost serious data here.

Lesson learned? I should’ve backed up the data onto my hard drive. If I had, then all would be cool. What are the chances of losing the network data AND hard drive data? Wait, don’t answer that.

Back up early and back up often. Oh, and vote, too!

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