Posts From June 2011
Computers are personal, but tablets are deeply personal.
Because of this, competing with the iPad is not as simple as going head to head with all the tangibles: hardware vs. hardware; OS vs. OS; 3rd-party apps vs. 3rd-party apps; and so on.
The iPad is more than the sum of its parts. The iPad has an intangible: Likability.
To date, nobody has been able to compete with Apple when it comes to the combination of hardware, operating system, and 3rd-party apps. If competitors have yet to even compete with the tangibles of the iPad, how then do they expect to compete with the intangibles?
From what I have seen and read about the TouchPad and webOS so far, this may be the first likable tablet since the iPad. It’s buggy and has a poor app store like the rest of the other tablets. But what the TouchPad has that the others do not is likability. And that gives me hope that it could be great.
This happens to me on a semi-regular basis: I hit the hotkey to bring up the OmniFocus Quick Entry Pane but nothing happens.
After waiting a few seconds wondering where it is, I’ll look over at my Dock to see that OmniFocus isn’t even running. I then launch the app, let it load, and hit the quick entry hotkey once again.
I’d rather my computer do the thinking for me in those moments. And so I hacked together this AppleScript.
When launched, the OopsieFocus script will check to see if OmniFocus is running. If OmniFocus is running then the script does nothing and OmniFocus brings up the Quick Entry Pane for you just as it should. If OmniFocus is not running then the script will automatically launch the app and bring up the Quick Entry Pane.
How To Use
As I write this sentence there is a hot cup of coffee sitting next to me, brewed using an AeroPress.
I own a drip coffee maker, a Turkish coffee maker, two french presses, a stove-top espresso maker, a siphon, and now an AeroPress. The stove-top makers never get used; the drip maker is only for when lots of company comes over; the siphon gets used about once a week at most; and the french press gets used every single day. Until today.
Savvy readers of the site will know that pretty much every day of the week I brew half a pot of french press coffee. The siphon also makes great coffee and is a lot of fun to use. But it takes lot of work and is very impractical for daily coffee making.
This is where the AeroPress comes in. It makes a cup of coffee on par with the french press and the siphon and is the easiest of them all to clean up.
You can’t ask if the AeroPress makes a better or worse cup of coffee than a french press or siphon — AeroPress brews coffee differently and brings out different flavors and tones. It is not better or worse, it is different, and yes, it is good. If you like french press and/or siphon then I bet you will also like AeroPress.
There are many ways to brew a cup of coffee with AeroPress. The common way is to brew it more similarly to how an espresso machine would: by pushing a little amount of water through a lot of fine grounds in a short amount of time. Once you’ve brewed and pressed your AeroPress your cup only has about 3 – 4 ounces of coffee in it. Very strong coffee. Then you can add hot water or hot milk.
There are some huge advantages to this type of brewing that you will never get with a french press:
You brew the AeroPress with 175-degree water. Using a bit cooler of water means you are far less likely to burn your grounds and so more likely to end up with a cup of coffee that is not very bitter or acidic.
You brew a lot of grounds with very little water and you do it quickly. This means you don’t over extract the coffee and your chances of ending up with that smokey-burnt flavor is also far less.
After brewing you can then add piping hot water to your 4 ounces of AeroPressed coffee and bring the temperature back up to piping. I, for one, like my coffee to be as hot as possible.
All of the above advantages to the AeroPress can be overcome by someone who is good at making french press. There is no reason you can’t brew a great cup of french press (I do it every day), but the margin for error is smaller with the AeroPress. However, there is one advantage that the AeroPress has which the french press or siphon will never have: clean up.
The AeroPress basically cleans itself as you use it. Once you’re done pressing your coffee, you simply untwist the plastic filter cap, pop the coffee puck into the trash, rinse off the bottom of the rubber plunger, and you’re done. Clean up takes about 10 seconds. By far, my biggest annoyance of making french press coffee every day is the cleanup.
If you’re persnickety about your coffee and brew some every day then the AeroPress may be your cup of tea.
As a consumer, when I’m given the choice between buying an app from the Mac App Store and buying it from a different point of sale, I will chose the Mac App Store every time.
The Mac App Store does present some disadvantages, such as the fact that critical updates won’t be pushed quite as quickly to me. However, it’s more than a worthwhile tradeoff for the exchange of having my licensing, updates, and installations all in one place. And these advantages are especially obvious when setting up a new computer or doing a clean install of your operating system.
When I first downloaded the developer preview of Lion a few months ago I was running it on an external drive. One of the first things I did was authenticate the Mac App Store with my Apple ID, and instantly I was able to download any and all of the apps which I had previously purchased.
It was a one-stop shop for updating my vanilla install of Lion into something a bit more useful.
A common sentiment we saw when the Mac App Store first launched was how nice and easy it would be for the non-nerdy user to buy and install apps. Not everyone is acquainted with how to handle
.dmg files and where to move their application files to, and the Mac App Store does away with all friction involved in downloading, installing, and registering an application.
Now that the store has been around for a few months, it seems that even the nerdiest of us are happy to use the it as our preferred point of sale as well.
However, what strikes me today is not the ease of use and the convenience of the Mac App Store. Rather, it’s the pricing point of Apple’s software. With Final Cut Pro X hitting the Mac App Store today I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the store’s price points and offerings.
Apple currently has 13 applications for sale in the Mac App Store (and Lion on the way). With Final cut Pro X now added to the lineup, the apps now form an easily identifiable range of pricing categories as pointed out by Ryan Nielsen:
|Consumer||$15 or less|
The above pricing points are — especially in some cases — significantly more competitive than the traditional price points of Apple’s software and even software in general.
If you buy the iLife apps (iPhoto, iMovie, and Garage Band) from Apple’s website or one of their retail stores, then they sell as a package deal for $50 for a single-user license or $80 for a family license. In the Mac App Store, they are $15 each (thus: $45 for the suite) and you get “family licensing” by default.1 This effectively makes Apple’s Consumer-level apps 44% off if you buy them on the Mac App Store.
Same story with the iWork apps (Pages, Keynote, and Numbers): package deal on their website or retail stores for $80/$100 for single/family licensing respectively. But in the Mac App Store they are $20 each, or 40% discounted.
And today’s big story is Final Cut Pro X. Previous versions sold for $999. Now it sells for $300 and is only available in the Mac App Store.How long until all of Apple’s software is only available in the Mac App Store?
Another example of new software pricing is operating systems. Not only will Lion be the first release of a Macintosh operating system to be available only via download, it will also have a very amiable price: $30. Lion is arguably the most substantial update to OS X to date yet it is priced the same as Snow Leopard, a noteworthy but not quite as major of an OS release.
Through the Mac App Store, Apple is selling industry-standard professional applications for a few hundred dollars and operating systems for the price of a date at the movies.
- Technically, as most of you probably already know, you could buy a single-user copy of iLife, iWork, or even OS X and then install it on multiple computers. Because Apple doesn’t enforce single versus family licensing. However, it would seem that most Mac users were honest and still bought the proper licenses. ↵
Excluding the one for things to do, the average nerd has 3 inboxes: email, RSS, and Twitter.
Your email inbox is bi-directional: items come in and sit there until you volley them back. Your RSS inbox is uni-directional: items come in, stop at the inbox, and sit there until you file them away.
Twitter, however, is an amalgamation of both. Not only are we dialoguing in Twitter, the news and information that was once only piped into the RSS inbox is now being piped into our Twitter inbox as well.
But does that mean Twitter is “killing” RSS?
From the Reader’s Perspective, Is RSS Dead?
Brent Simmons correctly argues that when people say RSS is dead what they most likely mean is that people are replacing their RSS inbox with their Twitter inbox. When we used to open up our RSS readers to see what was new and interesting, we are now opening Twitter instead.
But is that actually true? Has the Twitter inbox replaced the RSS inbox?
In some ways and in some circles, perhaps. If so, then here’s are some observations about Twitter and RSS and why the former may be replacing the latter as an inbox for interesting stuff:
1. Average Users Are More Familiar With Twitter Than With RSS
For the average person to get RSS updates they not only have to know what RSS is, they have to know that they can download an RSS reader. But someone who has signed up for Twitter and sees the CNN Breaking News account can easily follow it and begin getting updates from CNN pushed to their Twitter inbox.
Twitter is, in a way, bringing RSS to the masses in a way that RSS readers never will. Which means Twitter hasn’t killed RSS, but rather it has simply become more popular and more accessible by the average user.
2. Unread Tweets Don’t Add Up Like Unread RSS Items
When you open up Twitter to check your timeline it is no big deal to only check the latest tweets and then be done. However, in an RSS reader items that you ignore do not go away.
Moreover, part of the unread guilt that comes with Twitter is that it’s easy to be confident that things which truly are important will float at the top of your timeline since many people will be talking about it.
3. Twitter Combines the Monologue and the Dialogue
You can have your conversations, your news, and your entertainment discovery all rolled up into one single inbox. Why check RSS, and Twitter, and email when you could just check Twitter?
4. Twitter is Personal
There’s a chance that when you check Twitter someone will be talking to or about you. When you’re checking your RSS inbox, at best you will only find things that are interesting to you. When you check Twitter you will not only find things which are interesting, you can also find things which are personal. Our natural disposition to self-absorption alone is enough to make it fun and even addicting to check Twitter than to check RSS.
5. Shelf-Life of an Unread Item
I’ve heard that the average tweet has a 2-minute shelf life. I would guess that the average RSS item has a 48-hour shelf life. Which means that your unread RSS items can add up a whole lot quicker than your unread tweets.
For those who like to subscribe to the fire hose Twitter may make a better inbox — if you missed something that was published an hour ago you don’t know it, and at times ignorance is bliss.
However, if there are feeds which you just can’t miss then you’re likely to put them in your RSS inbox because it will sit there until you do something with it. You either read it, skim it, or mark it as read. But you have to deal with it, even if dealing with it means you ignore it.
Of course, I will say that though I find a lot of interesting stuff via Twitter, most of it is significantly more trivial than the content I find in my RSS feeds. The weight or brevity of what I discover seems balanced with the long-term or short-term nature of RSS Feeds and Twitter streams respectively.
6. Twitter Auto-Filters the Important Items
In your RSS inbox if you have 1,000 unread items, the only way to prioritize the importance of them is based on the source. An unread item from your favorite website is perceived as more important to you than all the other unread items, but you don’t know that for sure until you’ve read and judged all other 999 unread items.
In Twitter, however, the important stuff gets auto filters to the top. By nature of the fact that everyone is talking about it. If you’ve only got 30 seconds and you want to know what is important right now, you only have time for Twitter.
(This is the same problem that Shaun Inman’s Fever works to solve: the most linked-to URLs become the hottest.)
Survey Results of People who Use Twitter and RSS
I posted a survey on Twitter and on this site earlier today, asking some questions about our individual Twitter and RSS stats and usage. Here are some highlighted results based on 725 responses at the time:
80% of respondents follow 300 Twitter accounts or fewer; the most common following count was 100 – 200 (26%).
82% check Twitter every day, and 68% check it at least 3 times per day.
Most people (57%) do not feel unread guilt in the Twitter feed, compared to 60% who do feel unread guilt with their RSS feed.
75% of respondents are subscribed to 150 RSS feeds or less; 60% are subscribed to 100 feeds or less; 5% are subscribed to more than 300 RSS feeds.
Only 34% subscribe to more feeds than they feel they are able to keep up with; 32% of people follow more Twitter accounts than they feel they are able to keep up with.
92% check their RSS feeds every day, and 75% check it at least 3 times per day.
The survey is still open, so the above results (calculated when there were 725 respondents) may differ than the current results. You can see the complete and latest survey results here.
From the Publisher’s Perspective, is RSS Dead?
From the publisher’s perspective, is Twitter killing RSS? Should we set up a dedicated Twitter account for our website’s headlines? And if so, should we focus on driving people to that Twitter account instead of our RSS feed?
According to the above survey results, 76% of respondents subscribe to accounts that are not real people. If you have a dedicated Twitter account, it will likely get used. However, as was also discovered in the results above, people are still checking their RSS feeds actively. In fact, they are checking there RSS feeds more actively than they are checking their Twitter feeds: 92% check their RSS feeds every day compared to 82% who check their Twitter feed every day.
And so here is a look a 12 tech-centric websites, comparing their RSS subscriber counts, their site’s dedicated twitter account following (if the site has one), that site’s author’s personal twitter following, and then what the ratio of RSS subscribers is to Twitter followers.
RSS Subs (Approx.1)
|Site’s Twitter Followers||Author’s Twitter Followers||Ratio of RSS:Site’s Twitter|
|The Brooks Review||5,000||1,000||1,400||5:1|
|This is my next…||12,000||11,500||n/a||1.04:1|
|- – - – -|
As you can see, on average, there are about 6 RSS subscribers for every 1 Twitter follower of the site’s dedicated Twitter feed. Moreover, for most of the websites, the author’s personal twitter account has more followers than the site’s dedicated account. Meaning, people are subscribe to websites in RSS and following the author on Twitter.
I see no reason for a website not to have a dedicated Twitter account for its updates. But that doesn’t mean we should promote that Twitter account as the primary vehicle for which we want people to subscribe to updates. Especially for those of us whose websites have a more tech-savvy reader base.
- If the website itself doesn’t publish its RSS subscriber count, then I looked in Google reader for how many subscribers are in there and then added an additional 15% to help accommodate for RSS subscribers not using Google Reader. If anything, these RSS subscriber numbers are conservative. ↵
- The average ratio of a site’s RSS subscribers to Twitter followers does not include the ratio for Inessential. It was thrown out because clearly it’s an edge case. ↵
As Oliver Reichenstein so astutely wrote about in his article about iA Writer, pricing is very hard work.
The right price for a product is the highest price you can ask for, but with one condition: that your customers remain happy after they buy it.
I’m reminded of something Marco Arment wrote about last month regarding why he will never put a “rate this” dialog in Instapaper:
To me, once you’ve paid that $4.99, you get a first-class, luxury experience. I want you to feel great about having bought the app. [...]
People who feel that great about having bought the app are the ones who tell their friends, or the internet public, to go buy it for themselves. And that’s far better for my sales than any App Store review will ever be. If you’re searching for the app by name because you heard it was great, you’re probably already going to buy it, and it doesn’t really matter what someone says below the screenshots.
Here, Marco divulges his business model for Instapaper: treat his customers as well as he possibly can. Marco is trusting that his customers will spread the word about his app so that he doesn’t have to worry about cheap and rude marketing tactics. Instead he worries about making Instapaper really, really great. This is the pricing and business model shawnblanc.net as well.
The months before I announced the membership to this site, by far and away the thing I spent the most time thinking about and researching was the price. There are many other websites which offer subscription models and I looked into every one I could find. I asked questions from many readers, friends, and even business owners / entrepreneurs who were not very familiar with my site at all.
I landed at $3/month for two primary reasons:
I had a very strong gut feeling at just how many readers would would sign up and become members. The membership price was set so that if the amount of members I was expecting to sign up did, then I would be at a break-even point. And that is almost exactly what happened.
Secondly, 3 bucks a month is low enough that the vast majority of members feel like they are the ones getting a deal. They feel privileged, not duped. Which is great because never once have I felt pressure from members to create anything more extraordinary than there already is.
My “business model” for this site is to give current readers — you guys — a first-class site that you want to read every day. Thus, everything I write and everything I link to is for the sake of the current reader, not the random googler, and not in hopes of getting onto those traffic-sending aggregators like Reddit or Hacker News.
And that affects everything you see and read here — from the topics I write about, to the titles of the articles and the links, to the layout of the page, and all the other little frilly bits that are curiously absent.
My models for membership pricing and advertising are ones that keep the lights on while also keeping readers happy. And as for growth? My idea of “SEO” is to write with mustard, and my idea of “link-bait” is to publish stuff that you guys love.
It’s amazing how one thing will lead to another.
A few weeks ago there were some serious tornado warnings in my neighborhood for the first time since I moved here in 2001. The tornado alarms were going off, the AM radio stations were awry with the latest storm warnings, and Anna and I were hunkered down in the basement.
As we sat there listening to the radio and tweeting about the current weather outside, the thoughts that were going through my head were of those families just 2 hours south of us in Joplin, Missouri, who had lost their entire homes just a few days prior.
Thank God, our afternoon tornado scare never turned into anything more. But it left me thinking about the what if.
What if our home was destroyed and we lost all our belongings? Or what if someone were to break in and rob us? Apart from one another, the only irreplaceable things in our house are the priceless memories, work, and other information that we keep on our computers.
In short, if I woke up in the middle of the night and our home was on fire then I hope Anna and I would have enough time to put on some trousers, grab the external hard drive, and get outside.
But in moments like that the less stuff you have to think about the better, because what’s most important is staying alive and safe. And once we have kids that hard drive suddenly gets a serious demotion on the priority list.
If there ever were a situation where grabbing the external drive on the way out the door wasn’t an option, or if it were destroyed by a tornado, or if it were stolen, then we would lose years worth of photos and music as well as access to much of our livelihood, including the documents and passwords related to our business, finances, etc.
If what’s on your computer is important and irreplaceable, you should have an off-site backup.
When I was the Marketing Director for the International House of Prayer I kept an external drive at my work office. I would clone my laptop to that drive once or twice a week. However, when I quit my job as Marketing Director to write this site full time, my off-site backup came home with me.
My philosophy for backing up has always been this: keep it simple, keep it safe.
A backup system that requires very much personal attention will never make it in the long run. And a backup drive that isn’t safe is only slightly better than no backup at all.
I already have a system in place for keeping my current data backed up here at my house:
- Using SuperDuper! I back up my laptop to an external Lacie hard drive every night.
- I have a TimeCapsule that I run Time Machine to.1
- I keep all my daily “working files” in Dropbox.
The above backup setup is actually quite common amongst the nerdy. As it should be. It is extremely simple to maintain, it is redundant, and at any given moment if my laptop’s internal SSD were to suddenly suffer a fatal loss of all my data I would like only lose 60 seconds or less of my work.
But, what if something broke beyond just my laptop? What if my external drives were destroyed or stolen? The only data I would be able to recover would be the the handful of files which are in Dropbox. And that is precisely why an off-site backup is a good idea.
Off-Site Backup Options
There are many people who, like I did, keep a 2nd external hard drive at another location. ‘Such as:
- Rent a PO Box and store your 2nd external there
- Rent a safety deposit box and keep it there
- Keep the 2nd drive at a friend’s house
- Keep it at your office
I used to have my off-site backup at my office, but like I said, now that I work from home that 2nd drive is here with me.
The idea of keeping it in a Post Office Box or a safety deposit box is clever but seems like far too much work. It may be safe, but it most certainly is not simple. It means, that the longer between visits to the bank or the Post Office the less up-to-date that off-site backup is.
Moreover, PO Boxes and safety deposit boxes are not free. If you’re going to pay to store your data somewhere else then why not pay for a more simple and useful solution?
Why not back up to a cloud server? That’s what I decided to do.
The way I backup now looks like this:
- Nightly SuperDuper! clones of my laptop to an external drive.
- Time Machine running to a TimeCapsule.
- All “currently working files” stored in Dropbox.
- Automatic cloud backups of all my irreplaceable documents, photos, music, and application support folders.
If all the hard drives at my home were completely destroyed, Anna’s and my most important and irreplaceable data would be safe.
However, as I have found out, not all cloud-storage backup services are created equal. Over the past several weeks I have looked into and used a few different options and services. Here’s a look at each of the off-site backup services I have looked into.
They each have their own unique pros and cons, but at the core they are pretty much the same: they run in the background on your computer and they back up files to the cloud, and they both offer unlimited storage for a monthly fee.
I decided to go with Backblaze primarily because it was the more popular recommendation and Backblaze has a native Mac app that runs as a system utility. (As you’ll see later, CrashPlan is a Java app.)
When I first installed Backblaze and let it begin uploading, I was surprised to see that it was only going to upload 36 GBs of data from my laptop. I assumed it would do a backup, similar to how SuperDuper! does, and “clone” my laptop to the cloud. I also assumed that if I ever needed to recover my data from Backblaze and I asked them to send me the hard drive with my data on it, then I would simply be able to restore from that drive as I could with the external drive I have sitting on my desk right now.
Instead, I discovered that what Backblaze copies is just about everything but your Operating System and your applications.
Certainly the documents, media, and application support files which are in your home folder are the most important files to back up — they’re the ones which are most the irreplaceable. However, even if I wanted to backup my entire computer I couldn’t. Backblaze will not allow the backing up of any of the folders in your root directory, such as /Applications/, /Library/, /Developer/, /System/, or /Users/.
In many ways this makes sense. In an ideal scenario you’ll never need to use Backblaze to restore your data. So why spend extra bandwidth and CPU cycles to backup anything but the most crucial files? But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to have the option.
Backblaze will also back up external hard drives. I keep my iTunes library and Photo albums on an external media drive, and Backblaze uploads that to the cloud as well.
Data Recovery from Backblaze
Supposing my computer and hard drives were destroyed or stolen, how would I get back to the way things were?
Well, I’d start with buying a new computer, syncing my Dropbox files to it, and re-downloading and authorizing my applications.
Then I would have a few options from Backblaze for how to get my data: (a) download it; (b) have them send me an external HDD; or (c) have them send me a DVD with the data.
To download it is free; to have a physical drive or disc sent costs money. Since I have less than 100 GB of data and media, downloading it would not be all that horrible of an experience.
The disadvantages with Backblaze are that I don’t get as much control over what files get backed up as I’d like, and that it doesn’t provide the greatest level of security encryption. If you’re nitpicky and paranoid, Backblaze might not be for you.
The advantages to Backblaze are that it’s affordable, fast, and native to your Mac. If you want a simple and affordable way to make sure your pictures, music, documents, and application support files are backed up then Backblaze is probably perfect for you.
The second most popular suggestion was CrashPlan.
At first I thought CrashPlan was an identical service to Backblaze. They both do off-site backups of your computer and they both offer unlimited storage for $50/year. Since CrashPlan is a Java app, I picked Backblaze because it’s native.
However, as I did some digging around with CrashPlan I learned that it has some very cool features.
For one, CrashPlan lets you upload any folder on your computer. If you want to upload the folders in your root directory you can.
Secondly, CrashPlan has several options for where you can back up to:
- An external drive that’s connected via USB or FireWire.
- The CrashPlan cloud servers.
- A hard drive connected to a friend’s computer across town or across the world.
You only pay if you back up to CrashPlan’s cloud servers. This is obviously going to be faster and more reliable than backing up to someone else’s house, for some people they would much rather keep physical control of their data.
Backing your data up to drive connected to your friend’s computer is actually quite simple. They install CrashPlan onto their computer and then the app will give them their personal “backup code”. You enter that code into CrashPlan on your computer and then the two get linked. No fancy nerdery needed.
If your folks have a Mac or PC with a decent Internet connection, you could take a hard drive over next time you visit, plug it in, and convert their home into your off-site data center (something you never thought you’d say about your parents’ place).
Data Recovery from CrashPlan
If your data is at your folks house, you can just ask your dad to send you the drive. If you need to recover your data from CrashPlan’s data center they offer the same options as BackBlaze does: download, hard drive, DVD.
The advantages to CrashPlan are:
- You only pay for it if you back up to their cloud servers.
- You can back up any file or folder on your Mac, and you have complete control over picking those files.
- You have several options for other locations to back up, and you can chose more than one options, which means you can use just CrashPlan to manage your on-site and your off-site backups.
The disadvantage to CrashPlan is that it’s not a native app; it’s Java. Though, to be fair, you rarely interface with the app itself once you’ve set up the folders you want to back up and where you want to back them up to.
If you’re going to go with an off-site backup service and use their servers, CrashPlan would be a fine choice. But if you are wanting to keep your off-site backup in a location you control (like your office or your friend’s house) then that is where CrashPlan would truly be ideal.
There is, however, another backup option which is new to me: Arq. The more I learn about off-site cloud backups the more I like Arq.
Arq is not an App + Cloud service like Backblaze or CrashPlan, it is just an app. You buy it and connect it to your own Amazon S3 account. There are advantages and disadvantages to storing your data on Amazon S3.
At first glance it’s easy to think that putting your data on S3 would be significantly more expensive than the unlimited storage options that Backblaze provides. However, since Backblaze only uploads certain documents, and the general consensus for cloud backups is that you only back up the most irreplaceable files, the cost differences are may not be as extreme as you think.
Of course with Amazon S3 you not only pay for data storage, you also pay for data transfer. Which means my initial upload of 36 GBs would cost me $5 to upload and then $5/ month to store (or $3.35/month using the Reduced Redundancy Storage). If I upload all my music and photos (another 60 GB) to Amazon S3 as well then my monthly storage costs would be around $13 (or $9 if I used RRS).
(You could use Amazon Cloud Drive to store my music and photos since those are mostly static files and the Cloud Drive storage is cheaper than S3 at only $1/GB/year. But you definitely wouldn’t want to use Amazon Cloud Drive to keep your backups because you have to manually upload everything to it.)
So yes, Arq and Amazon S3 are a little more expensive than Backblaze or CrashPlan, but you get quite a few advantages. For one, you have complete control over the security and selection of your files that get uploaded to Amazon. Unlike Backblaze where your data gets decrypted on their servers, Arq keeps the decryption local.
Moreover, Amazon has several world-class data centers. If you keep your stuff on their Standard Storage they could suffer a simultaneous loss of two centers without losing any data. On the less-expensive Reduced Redundancy Storage they could lose one data center without losing your data. (Backblaze has one data center, CrashPlan has several.)
What I also like about Arq is that it gives you very granular control over what does and does not get backed up. By default, Arq recommends that you back up your home directory not including your ~/Library/ folder. But you can add or remove folders as you wish.
The way Arq does backups is similar to the way Time Machine does. Meaning it only backs up files that are new or have changed and it keeps past versions of old files as well. You can set a monthly storage budget so that your version storage does not grow your S3 costs out of control. When you hit that budget, Arq will delete the oldest versions of files in your S3 account, keeping only the latest copies.
I also like how Arq handles the network preferences for adjusting upload speeds. You can chose between maximum transfer rate, automatic, or fixed.
CrashPlan lets you set a transfer rate cap depending on if you’re at your computer or not. And though Backblaze lets you set a cap, those speeds are independent of what you are doing on your computer. For example, if I chose a lower transfer rate in Backblaze then it will use that lower speed even if I am not doing any network heaving work on my computer. And the opposite is true: if I chose a higher transfer rate then it will fight for that rate even if I am doing a lot of network heavy work.
Arq’s automatic transfer rate however adjusts to your Internet usage, as it should. So if I’m downloading a movie, Arq throttles back; if I’m casually web surfing, Arq speeds up.
Data Recovery from Arq
Restoring from Arq means downloading from your S3 account. You can chose to restore individual files, folders, or download all of it.
However, since Arq works similar to Time Machine, you can go back and see versions of your files and restore individual files or folders. So it’s not just for catastrophe recovery.
The only disadvantage to Arq is the price. Of course, for some people the superiority of Arq’s encryption and Amazon’s reliability may make the price worth it. And for others, depending on the amount of data being backed up, the price may be inconsequential if not equal to other services.
The advantages to Arq are that it’s a well-built Mac app. It offers very granular control, versioned backups, and it stores your data in Amazon’s reliable data centers.
Using Arq I feel much more in control and confident about what is getting backed up and just how safe it is. It even just feels more safe than the other services.
The short of it
All this to say, it is a good idea to have an offsite backup, and I recommend using a cloud-based service because it’s easy to set up and easy to keep up to date.
Backblaze and CrashPlan both work well and are very affordable. If you have lots and lots of irreplaceable data (more than 100 GBs) then you may want to use these guys because the monthly costs will be lower and they’ll send you a drive with your stuff on it to recover.
However, if you care about having granular control, better data centers, higher encryption of your data, and/or you don’t have that much to back up, then Arq is a great solution.
I currently have a one-year subscription with Backblaze, and I’m glad I do. But if I had known what I know today one month ago then I probably would have bought and used Arq instead.
An Aside About Time Warner Cable
The biggest hurdle with off-site backups is the very first upload.
When I first installed Backblaze, it calculated 36 GBs of data to be backed up. I began backing up at 2:00 pm on Wednesday, May 25. Eight days later, on Wednesday, June 1, only 23 GB had been uploaded — an average of 2.875 GBs/day.
This all got me thinking that something was seriously slow about my internet. I had heard that a SURFBoard modem would help open up my upload throughput, and so I picked one up at Best Buy but it did not affect my upload or download speeds at all.
What I discovered was that upload throughput is no longer throttled at the modem level anymore, it is throttled by the ISP (it’s been that way for years). And so, after talking to Time Warner I found out that they had a new service called Road Runner Extreme and it uses DOCSIS 3.0. I of course ordered it, and they came out a few days later to set it up.
As of Friday, June 3, at 10:00 am, my Backblaze upload was up to 28 GBs and still had about 10 GBs to go. That’s what time the TWC guy showed up and hooked up my new broadband. Once the new DOCSIS 3.0 service was set up, it only took 13 hours to upload the final 10 GB.
My original Time Warner service (Road Runner Turbo) was rated at 7 Mbps down and 1.5 up. The new, DOCSIS 3.0 service (Road Runner Extreme) is rated at 50 Mbps down and 5 up.
With the new service, my Backblaze uploads went from an average of 2.8 GB/day to 1GB/hr — almost 10 times the upload speed. (Worth bragging about is that I now get average upload speeds of 500 Kbps into Dropbox and 350 Kbps into Amazon Web Server.)
Speed Comparison Chart
Here’s a look at the speedtest.net results of my before, middle, and after with the new service and different modems:
|Modem & Service||Avg. Ping (ms)||Avg. Up (Mbps)||Avg. Down (Mbps)|
|Old modem with Time Warner Turbo||55||0.49||22.76|
|SURFBoard Modem with Time Warner Turbo||50||0.47||20.43|
|SURFBoard DOCSIS 3.0 modem with Time Warner Extreme DOCSIS 3.0 service||58||4.52||22.83|
- A note about TimeMachine, people complain that when it kicks in it brings your computer to a grinding halt. Well, that’s only true if you’re on an HDD. It does that because the needle is moving back and forth between the data that’s being read to be backed up to the drive and the data that’s being read for your use. With a Solid State Drive, read/write speeds are exponentially faster and you don’t even notice Time Machine kicking in. ↵
As most of you probably know, last week I was in San Francisco during WWDC. I didn’t actually attend the conference; I was simply in town to meet with all the other nerds who were there.
It took some guts to get on a plane and fly to the city for the week while having no agenda and no reason to go other than to meet people. It was a very fun and very exhausting trip.
Fun because I got to meet all sorts of great people — many of whom I’d only ever known on Twitter or email, and many of whom I previously had not known at all. It was exhausting because I was out there on my own and was constantly having “new” conversations with people I didn’t really know that well.
I was not the only person in town without a conference badge, and not one person I met thought I was odd for flying out simply to meet and hang out with folks. In fact, there were several people I spoke with who said they were considering not purchasing a badge for next year. Though, on the other hand, pretty much every developer I spoke to said a badge to WWDC was the best $1,600 they could spend on their career.
Here is an unordered list of tidbits regarding my trip to San Francisco:
AT&T service was just fine. I’ve only ever heard horror stories and wise cracks about what poor reception AT&T gets in San Francisco, but I had several bars everywhere I went. In fact, service was so good for me that I used my iPhone to tether my laptop when working from my hotel room because the 3G was faster than hotel wi-fi.
The best place for coffee in downtown San Francisco was Blue Bottle Coffee. I say this not because I tried all the other coffee shops, but because I didn’t try a single other coffee shop. Every visit to Blue Bottle, no matter the time, was greeted with a line out the door.
They brew every cup of coffee as you order it — there is no drip coffee “on tap” because they even brew that individually by the cup. And everything they brew is brewed their way in one size. I tried to order an Americano with steamed half-and-half but they don’t steam creamer. Also, they only brew Americanos in one size. All these peculiarities add up to a great cup of coffee. I had many great drinks and many great conversations at Blue Bottle.
Since I wasn’t actually attending the conference, I had no daily schedule. My routine each day consisted of using Twitter and email to have spur-of-the-moment meet ups. But that was the norm for just about everyone. It was a mix of people reaching out to me on Twitter or email wanting to meet up, and me reaching out to others to meet up.
And I met a lot of people. Which was the entire point of my trip. I wanted to shake hands and talk face to face with those whom I work with, write about, and connect with online so regularly.
Not every meet-up was planned. It was very common to bump into someone whom I knew or recognized. And I would always introduce myself and say hello whenever I could. Sometimes I would meet someone and we’d be able to hang out. Other times I’d meet them we would chat for a few minutes and then both go on with our day.
There was the third group of people that I met: the friends of friends. Many times I would be having coffee with someone, when a person that they knew would walk up to say hi. I would introduce myself, or get introduced, and thus meet someone new. This is often when business cards got exchanged. Nearly everyone at WWDC had a business cards, and, no offense to those there, my cards were by far and away the best cards there.
I recently had Evan Calkins make some letterpressed calling cards with nothing but my email on them. While it’s true that there are times when you need more info on your card than that, my email address (email@example.com) gives all the information that most people needed to know: my name, my website, and how to contact me.
Most meet-ups were usually followed up with a tweet about how nice it was to meet that person. I also kept a log in my Field Notes notebook about who I met, where we met, and what they did.
I cannot stress enough how fantastic it was to meet with so many developers, designers, and other writers. It was great to make a real life, personal connection with all these people whom I work alongside and write about each day. I know that the conversations and meet ups which took place during WWDC will make me a better writer for this site.
So, in short, if your career is at all tied to the Mac community (as a writer, designer, developer, consultant, etc.) then you should be in San Francisco during WWDC. And if you make software for Apple’s platforms at any level higher than the slightest of hobbies then you probably want a ticket to the conference. See you next year.
There hasn’t been an Apple keynote like this since January 2007.
Right now the air around Moscone Center, and in the Mac-centric community, is electric. Not unlike when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone at Macworld. That was a this changes everything type of moment. But it was more than that — it was an electric announcement. When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone we sort-of all knew it was coming. But we didn’t know what was really coming. It was one of those moments when what was actually announced blew past expectation.
When Jobs introduced the iPad, we also knew it was coming. And it too was a this changes everything type of moment. But, there wasn’t the same type of electricity in the air after the iPad. When we saw the iPad, we though it was just what we thought it would be. It wasn’t until you got one in your hands and began to use it that you realized how great it was.
Up until this week, a lot of people had the hunches about iCloud, the music locker, Lion, iOS 5, et al. And as in the days of the original iPhone announcement, our guesses were not just met, they were exceeded. We had no idea what was coming.
Obviously iCloud was the announcement with the most far-reaching impact. It was the one product that Steve took the stage to announce, and it was saved for last. Ten years from now we won’t remember 2011′s WWDC as the year we got Notification Center on our iPhones. We’ll remember it as the year Apple cut the cord.
iCloud is the most ambitious new product since the original iPhone.
Of course, that is not to say that the features announced in Lion and iOS 5 are chopped liver. By any means. In fact, Monday’s jam-packed keynote could have been three separate WWDCs. It was a wonder they fit all of it into just 2 hours.
Over the past year, 73% of all new Macs sold have been laptops. The iMac used to be Apple’s flagship Mac. Now it’s the MacBook. (I don’t know if this is a result of Apple’s marketing to their consumer base, or if it is them responding to their customers.)
I have this theory that Apple is building OS X Lion with one particular device in mind: laptops with SSDs.1 Even the demo computers that Craig Federighi used to show off the new features in Lion were laptops. I can’t ever remember a keynote where a desktop computer was not used.
When you take a look at some of the features in Lion — full-screen apps, version saving, session saving, and others — they are features that (a) run optimally on a SSD; and (b) look best on a laptop-sized screen.
Apps which run in full-screen mode are cool, but the bigger the screen, the less cool they are. Running one Lion’s Mail or Safari in full-screen mode on a 23-inch cinema display is just awkward. Running it on the 15-inch display is pretty good. And from what I’ve heard, those with the 13- or 11-inch MacBook Pros/Airs appreciate full-screen apps even better.
Steve said at the front of the keynote, if hardware is the brain then software is the soul of their products. A lot of thought and attention has been put in to Lion.
There are many incredible refinements which make Lion even more polished and attractive than its predecessors. Moreover, there are many new functionalities which make it even more simple and easy to use: LaunchPad, the Mac App Store, auto-saving, and more. These are all an assault against the role of the teenage son as the family tech consultant.
It’s hard to sum Lion up with a single sentence, but if you’re going to twist my arm about it then here goes:
Lion is the the world’s most beautiful and simple operating system.
This is not your average iOS update.
Once Scott Forstall had gone through the premier new features coming to iOS 5 I couldn’t think of one thing which I felt they had left out. That is not to say that iOS is finally perfect, but this one is jam packed with big stuff.
Usually, when an OS update is announced there are a a handful of things we were wishing for or bothered by in the old OS that didn’t make it into the new one. Not so with iOS 5. I cannot think of one thing in iOS 4 that irks me which hasn’t been addressed in this next update.
Not only were several of the biggest wants and needs addressed — such as notifications, faster camera access, and over-the-air updating and “syncing” — but many new things were added as well that we didn’t know we needed. Such as iMessage. It’s as if iOS 5 was built with 4 years of listening behind it.
The future is mobile, and the path to that future is paved by the cloud.
iCloud cuts the USB cord between our computers and our iPhones. It “demotes” the Mac and the PC to the same plane as the iPhone and the iPad. It lets you activate and update your iPhone from inside the car when you’re on your way home from the Apple store. It is something that lets you listen to a song on your iPod even though you bought it on your work computer.
But iCloud isn’t just a way to cut the USB cable. iCloud is an exciting and ambitious vision. It is the missing piece to get mobile computing to act the way it ought to.
- More specifically, I think they’re building Lion with the MacBook Air in mind. ↵
Dialvetica is the best way I know of to find contacts on your iPhone. It’s like the whole app has been built for a single purpose: get to a contact fast.
The way Dialvetica works is that you type in letters of a name — type them out of order if you like — and you’re presented with the most relevant search results. To call my mom, Bea Blanc, I tap on Dialvetica, tap the letters B, E, and then tap her name. That’s just 4 taps from Home screen to phone call.
Dialvetica’s custom interface is designed for this sole purpose, and so is the way it works under the hood. Searching for a contact within Dialvetica is far superior to searching within the Contacts pane of the iPhone’s Phone app.
In fact, Dialvetica has its very own keyboard; built to maximize your ability to search for and find a contact quickly.
It’s a custom keyboard designed to take up the least amount of space possible so you can see more contacts in the list. Also, the keyboard acts differently than the system keyboard: it highlights each letters you’ve typed, which acts as an aid to show you what letters you’ve typed already without having to take up space with a text field. It’s quite clever, really.
Dialvetica’s keyboard is 270 pixels tall. The default iOS keyboard is 431 pixels tall. And if you use the default keyboard, Dialvetica needs a text field (which takes up an additional 78 pixels) to be able to show you what you’ve typed.
(The names above have been blurred to protect the innocent.)
If you use Dialvetica, you’re silly not to use the custom keyboard that comes with it.
But it’s not just the keyboard that has been customized. The list of the names is a little bit “tighter” than the default contacts list view in iOS. You can see 7 contacts plus the keyboard in Dialvetica with its custom keyboard. You can see 4.5 contacts in Dialvetica with the system keyboard. Comparatively, you can see 8 contacts in the iPhone’s favorites pane which has no keyboard. And in the contacts search pane of the default Phone app you can see just about 5 names when the keyboard and searching field are all brought up.
To make it a customization trifecta, Dialvetica also has its own unique function for tapping on a contact. Instead of drilling down to a contact’s card, Dialvetica gives you 3 tap targets: one for making a call, one for text messaging, and one for email. Which means calling, texting, or emailing is just one tap away. If you do want to drill down to a contact’s card, swipe on that contact’s list item.
You can adjust the “default” behavior for your preferred tap targets within Dialvetica’s settings (which are found in the settings app). If your most common behavior is to search for someone in order to text message them, then you can set the default of tapping on their name to launch the SMS app. Or if your most common behavior is to search for someone to call them, then you can set that as the default. Likewise with emailing. My default is set to text message.
If the person you are calling or texting has multiple phone numbers then Dialvetica will ask you which number you’d like to call. You can pick a number and tell Dialvetica to always use that number, or you can be asked every time.
If you contrast Dialvetica with the iPhone’s Contacts pane in the native Phone app, you begin to see just how awkward the native app can be. Calling a contact through the Phone app’s Contact pane means that once you’ve launched the Phone app you have to tap on the Contacts tab, scroll to the top of the contacts list in order to reveal the search field, tap into the search field to select it and bring up the keyboard, then type the name of who it is you’re searching for, tap their name to open their contact card, then tap which way you want to contact them (call, text, email). Altogether you’re looking at upwards of 8 taps; 6 if you’re lucky. With Dialvetica it was 4.
Moreover, if you don’t type the name in exact spelling order then you get no results or wrong results. And the results you do get are listed alphabetically rather than by order of importance. The iPhone knows I call my mom several times a week, but it still puts that other person whom I haven’t called or texted since 2008 at the top of the list.
Dialvetica, however, does weigh your search results. Over time who you call and text with the most get pushed to top of the list. After you’ve experienced the way Dialvetica handles searching for contacts, when you try to find someone through the native contacts list pane it can be downright maddening.
But Dialvetica isn’t just good at search and find. It makes a pretty good replacement for the iPhone’s Favorites pane as well because Dialvetica also weighs the default list of displayed contacts. This means that whenever you launch the app you get an auto-sorted list of contacts, and those whom you are in touch with the most get pushed towards the top of the list.
And this is where my love/hate relationship with Dialvetica comes in.
When you launch the app is when it sorts your contacts list. Which means that every time I launch Dialvetica I’m greeted with the spinning loader wheel and my list of contacts shifts around just slightly. Yes, there is a great advantage to having an auto-sorted list of names. But there is also something about the timing and shifting of the auto-sorting which makes me anxious every time I launch Dialvetica.
In part, it’s that my “favorites” list is always a little bit different. The very top few names usually end up staying where they are, but the rest of the names have more flexibility. Granted, the more you use it then the more those names settle, but it is still not a hard and fast list and thought I love it, yet it irks me a bit.
Secondly, the sorting begins after you’ve launched the app. Which is a really bad time to tell the user to hold on a minute. I don’t know if this is possible but having the list sort in the background after you’ve made a call would be much better. Then it’s ready and waiting for you once you launch the app.
Since it seems to be re-calculating all the time it feels unpredictable, and I never know what my contact list is going to look like. And that, for whatever reason, throws me off and makes me a bit anxious.
Dialvetica has found a place on my iPhone’s Dock, where the native Phone app use to live. Though Dialvetica isn’t a replacement for the native phone app because it doesn’t show you recent and missed calls, and it doesn’t have access to your voicemail. Which means that there is still reason enough for me to keep my iPhone’s Phone app on my first Home screen.
Since Dialvetica replaces only 3 of the 5 functions of the native Phone app (Favorites, Contacts, and Keypad) it’s still an app that has to be used in conjunction with the native Phone app rather than in its place. And that is unfortunate because there are so many things Dialvetica does better than iOS, yet you can’t fully cut loose from the native Phone app.