Why Backblaze Is My Choice For Online Backup Provider

I chose Backblaze as my online backup service provider for one year (possibly, longer).

It was actually a tough choice. I was weighing many options. Do I just go with the well-known leaders (by customer base), such as Mozy or Carbonite? Do I go with a provider that offers me a finite quantity of backup space per subscription, but allows me to backup unlimited computers, such as SpiderOak?

Obviously, the answers to these questions were "No"; so here is why I went with Backblaze:

  • Good communication -- Backblaze communicated with me via Twitter and answered my pre-sales questions via email. SpiderOak was also very good in its email communication with me. Carbonite, iDrive, Mozy, Safecopy also communicated with me satisfactorily as well.
  • Let me into the Mac beta trial -- While very late into the party (they publicly released for the Mac a week later), Backblaze gave me an invitation to try their Mac service before it went public.
  • Ease of Use / Function Offering Ratio Balance -- It was very easy to set up the client on my MacBook Pro and get to backing up. An icon sits in my menu bar and allows me quick access to see what and how much is being backed up. But just because it is easy to use, doesn't mean they skimped on the functionality. I can throttle my backup bandwidth; choose file types and folders to exclude; set my own encryption key; and set basic scheduling options.
  • Price -- My choice came down to BackBlaze and SpiderOak. At retail, SpiderOak would have cost me $100/yr. Backblaze $50/yr. Like many people, I am doing my best to try to conserve some money, make appropriate purchase decisions. And while I really believe SpiderOak is a player in this space, a lot of my decision, maybe sadly, was based upon cost. Backblaze is a legitimate player and the cost was right -- especially after the 10% Chris Pirillo discount, which sealed the deal for me. (To be fair, you can find 10% discounts for SpiderOak and there are even some 20% discounts out there if you are resourceful)
  • Allows me to backup external drives -- As I write this, I am backing up content on an external firewire drive connected to my MacBook Pro. This drive is partitioned 3 ways, holding my Time Machine backups, SuperDuper backups and data that I just didn't want taking up space on my primary 120GB MacBook Pro drive (e.g., videos). Backblaze does not allow you to backup your Time Machine data (seems reasonable), but I am backing up about 42 GB of data. I am 7GB into that process, which, probably expectedly, is taking just a tad longer than the primary hard drive.
  • Backup speed -- The throttling mechanism is very useful and seems to work. With various degrees of throttling used in the 8 days, average 12 hours/day time it took me to backup 42.5 GB of data on my MacBook Pro, I average about 0.45 GB (450 MB) per hour. That seems pretty good to me.
  • Restore -- I tested restore just a little bit. Seemed straightforward and easy. You log into the website. Enter your private encryption key if you decided to use it. Choose what directories/files you want. Then click Restore. An email comes to you really quickly saying a zip file with all the files you chose is ready to be downloaded. If you need a bunch of your stuff urgently, and can't wait for download, you can also order, at extra cost, an overnight shipped DVD or USB drive of your data (see below why this could be an issue, though).

All that said, I do not believe Backblaze is perfect. Here are some items I think need improvement:

  • Multiple Computer Support -- Backblaze would be near perfect if it allowed multiple computer support on one subscription a la SpiderOak and others. While 95% of my time is spent on my MacBook Pro (because I can run both OS X and Windows), I do have another HP laptop. It would be nice if I could just add that computer to current subscription. But, while I can add the HP to my current Backblaze account, I would have to pay another $50/yr. So instead, if I want to backup items from that machine, I use an intermediary like DropBox or SpiderOak (which both offers 2GB of space free) and then access those items from my MacBook Pro to be backed up on BackBlaze.
  • Unencrypted Data on Their Media Restore -- Sort of a good cop, bad cop here. It is actually very cool that Backblaze offers the option to get your data on hard media, overnight. But the problem is that your data comes to you *unencrypted*. Me, I would be a little bit apprehensive of FedEx having a drive that has all my data readily accessible. I believe BackBlaze is working on a solution to alleviate this issue, but nothing has been announced publicly. That said, most providers don't offer this capability anyway, so it is a nice-to-have feature. And most people restore their data through download anyway.

So in summary, I believe Backblaze, while imperfect and a relatively new service (especially on the Mac support front) provides a great service. It offers great functionality at a very good price. And I have seen no major issues with the service thus far. And, they seem willing to communicate with you if needed. I have signed up for a year commitment. SpiderOak was a very close second, and, in the end, primarily came down to financials as to why I chose Backblaze over them. I think they are pretty even on all other aspects as for what I require in an online backup provider.

Now I just hope that I am a paid user and they have lured me in, they still won't mind the occasional Tweet every now and then :)


MacBook Pro Battery Health Waning Quickly - But Why?

I usually leave my MacBook Pro sitting on my desk connected to a power adapter. Since I had the battery replaced back in October 2008, my guess is that I may have cycled through a power charge at the most 10-15 times.

However, this past week I had my MacBook Pro out and about around the house way more than usual. I would use the computer on battery a bit, then recharge it when I was done. Stuff like that. But, most of the time, even this week, I would still use the MacBook Pro connected to a power adapter.

So, yesterday (4 April 2009), I used iStatPro (highly recommended widget) to check the health of my battery. It was at around 96% after about 20 cycles. I didn't think this was too bad. Before I went to bed, I noticed my batter was down to about 35% as I had been using it untethered to my power adapter. So I shutdown the computer, plug it into the power adapter and then went to bed.

This morning (5 April 2009) I woke up to the strangest thing. I noticed the light to my power adapter was *off*. No green light to mean the battery was charged. No red (or is it orange?) light to mean that the battery was charging. Nothing. So I removed the adapter from the MacBook Pro and plugged it back in; then the light went on as to indicate it was charging.

When I booted the computer up, I noticed the battery still had only 35% charge. What the heck? I had it plugged in all night. So I brought up iStatPro again, and here is what I found :-( (except replace the 100% with a 35% because I just took this snapshot right now)


69% health after only 21 cycles!!!!! No way that is normal.

Then I opened up System Profiler and found corroborating evidence.


I tried resetting the SMC, but that didn't help.

So what is going on here? I must be doing something wrong, right?

Will calibrating the battery help me or am I just screwed and going to have to bring the battery back to the Apple Store again for replacement?


Conficker - Should Mac Users Be Worried?


So I was watching 60 Minutes last night (I can still hear that tick, tick, tick, tick, tick of the clock....and I am still amazed that Andy Rooney is still around!).

Their lead story was regarding internet viruses, particularly the Conficker virus that is supposedly just sitting dormant on many, many hosts waiting to be triggered.

There are rumors that this virus is going to be triggered on April 1st -- of course, April Fool's Day. Whether that happens or not remains to be seen. But it got me thinking......

Should Mac users be concerned?

From what Leslie Stahl was reporting on 60 minutes last night, all internet users should be freaking out about this virus. Maybe that is the case. I don't know, really. I thought this was primarily a Windows virus. But a Symantec VP in the 60 minutes piece thinks that Norton will be able to help all users.

So, are you Mac users running out and buying Norton AntiVirus for the Mac? Do you still think that Mac users don't need to be worried about anti-virus software?

I have a feeling I know where most people fall on this debate ;-)


Choosing an Online Backup Service - Revisited

[Update 3: After tweeting Backblaze about me not being able to use their service because of no Mac support -- I get a reply inviting me to their private beta. Thanks Backblaze! But now my decision is that much harder :-)]

[Update 2: I just realized that Backblaze does not currently have a publicly available Mac version. That rules them out, for now]

[Update: I have received two more candidate possibilities from Twitter of all places. ScottBourne of Mac fame recommended BackJack which looks interesting, but maybe a bit overkill for me. SpiderOak_Inc must have seen my posts and recommended SpiderOak, and, while I was wary and had never heard of them, their service is quite compelling, especially the zero knowledge policy. And here I thought I had almost made my decision].

Back in December, I wrote about my desire to choose an online backup service. Since then, I am still without a true service (I am doing some hodgepodge things right now to give me some semblance of offsite backup; but nothing very formal).

The desire to choose one is still there; and for whatever reason, I really wanting to choose one like right now.

I have narrowed my choices down to 4:

  • Carbonite (they finally have a Mac client; plus I can support Leo Laporte and TWiT since Carbonite sponsors Leo's awesome and free podcasts)
  • Backblaze (they are less known, but get great reviews; plus their front page "ad" is kinda cool :-) ---- Mac version currently closed to public, but I have beta invite)
  • SafeCopy (I believe they are quite new, but people have given them thumbs up; but are they too new??)
  • DropBox (There free service is actually quite compelling; I use it....but I think they are the costliest of the bunch here when it comes to getting more storage)

[Mozy -- you are out because you still cannot handle encrypted files from what I understand -- prove me wrong!]

Let me give you my current thought process:

Use the free version of DropBox to share files between my Windows laptop and my MacBook Pro, and then use Carbonite to backup offsite. I would need DropBox because Carbonite and many others only allow you to register one computer for backup, so I would use DropBox to move files I want backed up from my Windows computer over to the Mac (which will be my primary, registered computer). But, something like a SafeCopy would allow me to have unlimited computers registered because their pricing is based on storage.

So help me out. I would appreciate it. I would especially appreciate any representatives from the above companies coming by and selling me on their service.

Thanks!


MacRumors Live MacWorld 2009 Keynote Feed Hacked!

<Warning: semi-R-Rated Content Here> Ugh!

I tuned in this morning to macrumorslive.com (which is now down) over there at MacRumors see what interesting goodies were going to come from Apple at this, their last MacWorld, and during their first announcement of iLife '09, I started noticing some strange phrases coming from their twitter-like feed.

Here is a screenshot of the good, normal, G-Rated feed I was watching:

 

Good Feed

 

 

And here is where it got crazy and R-Rated.  I crossed out some things for the innocent :)  :

 

Hacked Feed

 

 

I wasn’t very happy about this because MacRumors had the best live feed going, and obviously they had to shut it down. But, it does go to show that hackers are abound, and the next time I am sure that MacRumors will double check their security before going through this circus again.

MacRumors even issued a mea culpa on their site. Good for them! I think MacRumors is still one of the best Apple sites around.

 

MacRumors Mea Culpa

MacBook Pro SuperDrive Burn Problems Update: Fixed with Laser Lens Cleaner!?!

Here is an update to my fun (and more fun) with my MacBook Pro optical drive. I called Apple support. We talked for about an hour. We tried different things:

  • Tried burning a DVD again (just in case magic would happen this time)
  • Made sure that I didn't have any drive permission corruption or something stupid like that -- so we repaired my hard drive disk permissions
  • Ran a quick hardware test, which showed no problems

None of our initial troubleshooting resulted in success.

So the thinking before the end of the call was that I was going to have to get the drive replaced. I would prefer not to send my computer in a box to who knows where (even though it would be free with AppleCare and I hear good things about it). So we made an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar (again) so that I could bring my computer in, they could have a look at it, and then they can also tell me that the drive needs to be replaced :-) ; then I would have to come back to the Genius Bar for the actual replacement after they ordered the part. (Apparently, Apple phone support and Apple Genius Bar support are totally separate entities, so my call to Apple support could not be used as the definitive answer to replace the drive. The Genius Bar would have to make that decision for themselves. That is why I would have to go twice).

Anyway, right before we hung up, the support representative on the phone just off the cuff said to try a CD/DVD drive laser lens cleaner. I was a little surprised because I always thought these things were frowned upon. I made sure that doing so wouldn't void my warranty and AppleCare support. She said no. So I decided to give it a shot. Anything to save me two trips to the Apple Store and the possibility of being without my computer for a day or two.

So I went to Target and bought the Memorex Optidisc CD/DVD Lens Cleaner. Came home. Popped in the cleaner CD. It did whatever it does with the little brushes that are pasted on the CD. And the CD ejected.

Pessimistically, I tried to burn some photos to DVD.

WHOA! It worked. I was shocked. A $10 fix, that I should have tried all along. 

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the right solutions, I guess.

(P.S. I highly recommend getting AppleCare for your Mac products, especially big purchase items like a computer or monitor. I usually frown on extended warranties, but I have used it for a couple of issues after my year warranty ended on my MacBook Pro. And if indeed there was a problem with my SuperDrive, having AppleCare means it gets replaced for *free*. AppleCare is good for 3 years after the purchase of your Apple product. And many times you can find the AppleCare for your product cheaper (e.g., Ebay) than buying it directly from Apple).

Mac Personal Finance Software: iBank Wins, Moneywell Has Promise, Who Knows About Quicken Financial Life

iBank will be my Mac financial application, as imperfect as it may be. But it is by far the best and most complete financial software package out there for my needs (and if you include iBiz, it would match Microsoft Money in most, if not all, facets). I will wait and see what happens with Moneywell, and I am intrigued by the upcoming release Quicken Financial Life (although I am disappointed I cannot be a part of the beta).

Read More

MacBook Pro Slot Drive Is Finicky - It was the CD-R Brand After All

UPDATE: It ended not being the brand necessarily. I used a CD drive cleaner and all seems fixed: http://joelmarcey.com/2009/01/05/macbook-pro-superdrive-burn-problems-update-fixed-with-laser-lens-cleaner/ This weekend I went to the Apple Store Genius Bar to see if they could find a resolution to my slot drive problems.

Well, it was the CD-R brand after all! I showed the Genius Bar representative my problems with my Sony (Brand A - I don't need to protect the innocent anymore) and my Memorex (Brand B) CD-Rs. She popped in a Staples brand CD-R (Yes, a Staples Brand!!!), and it burnt an iTunes playlist flawlessly.

Thus it seems the MacBook Pro slot drive is finicky; but better than having it sent in for repairs. ;-)

I am heading to Staples soon. :-)

Google Chrome is "Officially" Released; and Gmail is still in Beta?

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Well, talk about interesting. As seen in this article, Google has dropped the beta label from its web browser, called Chrome.

  Why do I find this interesting? Well, a product coming out of beta into release is actually kinda normal in software development. But, I have been using Gmail for over 4 years, and it is still in Beta!! I even wrote about this before.

  Something tells me that Gmail is a little more stable than Chrome at this point in time. Maybe I am wrong. Heck, though, there isn’t even a Mac version of Chrome yet! :-)

State of the Me - Quick Hits

It has been a while since I have given a progress report of where things stand for me professionally. Back when I worked for Intel, I was mandated to give monthly status report. I am feeling nostalgic today.

Here is  quick bulleted list.

  • I am still consulting, but, unless I am told otherwise, my current work is ending fairly soon here (maybe in the next couple of weeks).
  • I told you about a month ago that I figured out the product I was going to develop to start my micro-isv. My progress on that front has been limited. However, I am fleshing out a new idea that would make that product a subset of this new, what becomes an overarching, idea. I won't say much now other than say I am looking for a couple of partners and it includes, but goes beyond, software development into the world of internet media and other information dissemination mediums.
  • I am exploring the options for a webhost. I believe I have narrowed my choice down to 1, but I have an outstanding question to their sales department before I can say for sure. The hard part was to choose to go with a Linux based host over Windows because Windows is what I know.
  • When I choose my new webhost, I believe I am going to move this blog from its current home (Wordpress.com) to the new webhost via Wordpress.org. The reason for this is two fold - (1) Consolidation of all blogs and websites at one place (2) A learning experience about Wordpress.org and the migration process. I have never self-hosted a blog before.
  • I have gone totally Mac. Well, that is a little disingenuous, I suppose. I am running Mac OS X Leopard as my primarily operating system and running Windows Vista via VMWare Fusion (primarily because my current consulting gig requires it). This configuration is just awesome!! I love it!!! I am beginning to love Mac OS X as much as Windows. Also, I just bought a 20" Apple Cinema Display on Ebay that I expect to get today or tomorrow.
I will provide more detailed posts on any of these bullet items as warranted.

Boot Camp 2.1 Update Gave Me Hell!

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I have a MacBook Pro, 2.2 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM laptop. I can dual boot either into Mac OS X Leopard or Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit via the Boot Camp technology provided by Apple.

So here I am minding my own business in Windows Vista, when Apple's Software Update prompt appears saying a new version of Boot Camp is available, 2.1. I figure, cool, maybe it fixes a few problems and it is only a .1 release (I am currently running 2.0), let me go ahead and download it.

Well, that was mistake #1.

The update failed. I tried downloading in manually, and running it failed. Then I noticed some funky things going on with my current Boot Camp installation, like what happens when an installation gets 1/2 way through but didn't finish.

I was like "Oh no! That's not good"

So needless to say I spent the better half of the weekend reinstalling Windows Vista Ultimate from scratch and I am keeping Boot Camp 2.0 until Apple gets this whole installation thing figured out.

I am surprised Apple would release something that has had so many problems; I generally have had a good experience with them.

Please release Boot Camp 2.1.1 soon Apple!

I recommend staying with Boot Camp 2.0 until things stabilize a bit. I sure am.

Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard) - Initial Impressions

OK, I have been able to "play" with Leopard a little bit and here are my initial impressions: My System

MacBook Pro 15", 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM, 100 GB Hard Drive

Best Feature

Spaces. Having different virtual desktops is not a new concept. But, it is for Mac OS X. And I can see this being a mainstream feature for me. One space for coding, one space for web browsing, one space for email. It is especially useful on a laptop where I hate having to minimize, drag, etc. in order to get to windows and see multiple windows.

Most Disappointing Feature

Time Machine. Why, you say? Well, because I cannot use it with a configuration that you would think would have been easily supported (and, apparently, was in some of the Tiger betas). I have my external hard drive connected to an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station (AEBS) so I can back stuff up from multiple computers over my home network. Well, that is not a supported configuration. So, to back stuff up using Time Machine, I would have to unplug my external drive from the AEBS and directly connect it to my MacBook Pro (there is a supposed workaround that I am not sure I want to try). I am hoping this is fixed sometime in the future.

Biggest Surprise

The upgrade process. It was such a seamless upgrade from Tiger to Leopard. Just popped the DVD, chose "Upgrade" and off she went. No blue screens of death, no missing applications, and even my Windows Partition via Boot Camp was, for the most part, unaffected.

Wish It Was Better

Safari. Actually, maybe I should say the support for Safari. The browser is fine. It is fast as claimed. But, it still feels like a 3rd class citizen as far as many of the sites I use are concerned. For example, I am writing this post in the WordPress.com editor and it can't really handle it (it squishes all of the text in one big paragraph). FireFox and Internet Explorer still dominate support for web-based applications and sites. Maybe this changes now that Safari has been upgraded nicely.

Other Notes

  • I still need to play a bit more with Finder and Spotlight to fully give my impressions of those.
  • Boot Camp (which allows you to run Windows) is working great -- although, during the upgrade, it changed my video card from NVida to Standard VGA. That was weird and I had to reinstall the drivers from the Leopard DVD
  • The appearance of the menus and windows is strangely close to Microsoft's Aero Glass interface that is found in Windows Vista. I don't find this good or bad, just interesting.

Best Review of Leopard

The best online, and thorough, review of Leopard has been by Ars Technica

Goodbye Tiger, Hello Leopard

Today at 6 PM, where ever you are in the world, Apple lets yet another big cat out of its cage. Leopard, the next major Mac operating system update from Apple, will be delivered, bought and/or installed on many a Mac computer. I ordered mine from Amazon because I am frugal, I suppose. So I won't be getting mine until next week. But, I did get an email this morning with the oh-so familiar Amazon subject line: Your Amazon.com order has shipped.That's good news. And, I will be heading out to my local Apple store to see the hoopla (I did that for the iPhone and it was kinda wild -- I don't expect it to nearly match that for Leopard though)...and then have a nice meal at Chick-Fil-A with the family.

 Now, given I am a relatively new Apple convert (I just got my MacBook Pro back in June), I am not sure what to expect with this new update. Apparently, there are 300+ new features or updates from Tiger (the previous Mac operating system).

What I am going to be looking for is how I feel about this update as compared to Windows Vista. I am in the minority in my opinion that Windows Vista is worth the upgrade -- and I am running it on a Mac, which is also relatively rare. So we'll see how how impressed I am with Leopard.

Gateway One, an IMac killer!

Ha! Just kidding. I just noticed this on the Gateway site:  http://www.gateway.com/programs/one/index.php

But, it does raise an interesting question. Are we seeing the end of the "box" computer as we know it? Is this new sleek, efficient design going to be the norm? Some will say, maybe justifiably, that the Gateway One is an Apple copycat (it wouldn't be the first time people have accused a company of copying Apple, and vice-versa). But maybe this design is becoming the new black. It may take a few years to get the design right for the ultimate productivity machine, for example, but that is what innovation and technology are for.

Would I buy a Gateway One? If we weren't going to buy an iMac, I would consider it. Maybe I am a schmuck, but I love these type of desktop computer designs.

Buying a Computer: New or Used?

For the business my spouse wants to start (I am not ready to give up what type of business it is just yet), she needs a new computer. The 4 year old, first generation Intel Centrino, Dell laptop, with 512 MB RAM is just not going to cut it. We have had a lot of discussion about the brand of computer we are going to buy. We are fairly confident that we are going to settle on an Apple iMac -- while the cost may be a little bit more than a <Dell, HP, Gateway, insert your favorite vendor here> PC, the fact it can run both Windows and OS X just makes it a no brainer. And with the business my spouse wants to start I can see her switching back and forth between operating systems. And, the new and previous generation iMacs are just sweet looking and designed so efficiently!

Now that the "What type of computer are we going to get" question has been answered, we are faced with another dilemma. Should we buy new or used? The fact is, the previous generation iMacs had Intel Core 2 Duo processors in them, etc., and would serve just fine for my spouse's business. And now that the new iMacs were announced back in August, these previous generation iMacs can be found "discounted" on eBay and other sites.

I have always leaned towards never buying a used computer. I like my computers "clean as a whistle", so to speak. So buying from an individual on eBay scares me a bit. There are reputable stores, like even Apple themselves, that sell refurbished computers. And notice above I put the word discounted in quotes -- I am not 100% convinced that the value you might be able to get from a used/refurbished computer will really outweigh having the latest generation and never touched machine. The new iMacs start at only about $1200; add another 1GB of RAM and you are looking at $1300 or so. Not too bad. Amazon has a $50 rebate too.

So what is your opinion? Would you buy a used/refurbished computer? If so, from where would you buy such a computer?