Sunday
Feb192017

Best way to back up data

Best way to back up data
By OON YEOH
19 February 2017

WE live in an information age, which means we have lots of electronic data — documents, images, audio files, video files. These are usually kept on our computer hard drive or on an external hard drive.

The problem is that computers can crash and external hard drives can fail. And yes, I’ve had both happen to me. A few years ago, I even stored some data by burning them on DVDs. And guess what, some of those DVDs became unreadable with the passage of time. So, it seems there is no reliable way to store our precious data.

I’m not being facetious when I use the phrase “precious data”. I have pictures of friends and family that are invaluable. I have music that’s really hard to find that I can’t afford to lose. I have video clips of judo competitions that are no longer available online.

A few years ago, on the advice of a friend, I spent quite a lot of money buying Drobo storage devices. They can best be described a “smart hard drive”. Actually it consists of several hard drives stacked together but they appear on your computer as one big hard drive. The beauty of this system is that if a particular unit of hard drive is starting to fail, you will get a warning and you can replace that particular unit without have to manually migrate data from that unit to the rest. The proprietary system has a lot of redundancy built into it.

All of that sounds great on paper but after a while, I found so many of my hard drive units starting to fail, it became very expensive to keep buying new units to replace them. I got really fed up but the last straw was when my entire stack started to fail. This wasn’t supposed to happen with a Drobo but it was happening to me. And Drobos are much, much more expensive than your standard hard drives.

Fed up, I abandoned this system and decide to just to do triple back-ups of my data. So, I would store a particular set of data — say my entire music collection — onto an external hard drive. I would then do a back-up of that hard drive. Then, I would do another back-up of it. I would have to be extremely unlucky to have three hard drives all fail on me.

I would check my hard drives from time to time and whenever I discover one was starting to malfunction, I would quickly get a new hard drive to replace it. Needless to say, this was an extremely cumbersome and expensive way to back up my precious data.

STORAGE SOLUTIONS
About a year ago, I tried to find an online solution. There are several storage solutions that allow you to upload your data to the “cloud” — basically external servers maintained by the service provider.

Many of those solutions are rather expensive as they charged by the Terabyte (I had many Terabytes of data).

They also tended to have cumbersome uploading requirements. For example, there was one service I tried which was reasonably priced but it only allowed uploads from my computer hard drive. If I wanted to upload data from an external hard drive, I’d have to pay extra. So, if I wanted to save money, I would have to transfer data from my external drive to my computer’s drive and then upload it to the cloud.

The problem is that a computer’s hard drive is usually not that big. Mine is one Terabyte, which might sound like a lot but I have several Terabytes of data to upload. A cloud storage solution that was cumbersome and expensive won’t work for me. So, I abandoned the cloud approach and stuck with my triple back-up system of storing data on three external hard drives, for safety.

Last month, I discovered Amazon Drive. I knew all along that Amazon had storage solutions but for a long time this was really meant for companies. To my pleasant surprise, it now has a solution for individuals too.

Amazon Drive costs US$59 (RM262) per year and it offers unlimited storage. That’s right, there is no limit to how much you want to store. How can it afford to offer such generous capacity? I guess most people don’t have multiple Terabytes of data like I do and will not use up so much capacity. (I’m an outlier as I easily have over a dozen Terabyte of data that I want stored).

When I first came across it, I felt this sounded too good to be true and if it were true, it would be the answer to my storage prayers. Amazon offers a really generous three-month trial period where you don’t have to pay anything, so there was no hesitation on my part.

There are two ways to upload data onto Amazon’s cloud drive. One way is through the web, which is rather slow. The other way, the faster approach, is to dump the data into an Amazon Drive app installed on your computer desktop and it will sync automatically.

Once everything has been uploaded, transfer the data into another folder which you can create through its web interface. Once all that data is in the new folder, remove the data from the Amazon drive app so that there’s more space to put in more data to be synced.

At first I did not know this and simply removed the data from the app without first transferring it to another folder via its web interface. To my dismay. I found all the data also missing from the cloud.

Since I started using the service, I’ve been gradually uploading judo videos to my Amazon Drive — some 6.2 Terabytes worth of judo videos, and I’m not even done yet. I figure it will take me quite some time to transfer all my judo videos. Then I’ve got my home videos, my documentaries, my music collection, my audiobooks, my photos and so on. I have no doubt the total amount of data stored will be in the dozens of Terabytes and it will probably take me several months to gradually upload them all. But once done, I will have my data very securely stored.

Some of the potential hazards of using cloud storage include something going wrong and your data going missing. Or someone might hack into the system and steal your data. Another danger is that the business goes under and along with it your service (and data). Well, I’m confident that none of these things would happen with Amazon Drive.

Firstly, Amazon’s cloud service is so robust and secure that the Pentagon uses it. Secondly, Amazon isn’t about to go bankrupt anytime soon.

So, I feel pretty safe about storing my data with Amazon. And at US$59 per year, it’s a bargain, especially for someone like me, who has tonnes of data. But even if you don’t have anywhere as much data to store as I do, at that price it’s a really viable option for those who want to store their precious data in the cloud.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com.

Sunday
Feb122017

Driverless cars save lives

Driverless cars save lives
By OON YEOH
12 February 2017

ALTHOUGH driverless cars is something all major automakers and even tech companies like Google and Apple are working on, it still feels like it’s in the realm of science fiction.

If you ask someone who’s not in the auto industry if they’d feel comfortable riding in a driverless car, the likely answer is no. And you’d be in good company. According to a recent Deloitte study released in January, nearly 75 per cent of Americans don’t believe driverless cars will be safe.

The expansive study, which surveyed 22,000 consumers from 17 countries, found that a majority of respondents had safety concerns about fully autonomous vehicles, with China at the lowest (62 per cent) and South Korea at the highest (81 per cent). The US is somewhere in between but 75 per cent is not a low figure!

It’s understandable that people have concerns about a new technology that isn’t yet ready for prime time. But this is a serious technology development that will revolutionise the auto industry and it’s not just fad. It’s a certainty that driverless cars will be a common feature in our lives, certainly within a decade.

Why are driverless cars so important that every automaker worth its salt is researching heavily into it? Driverless cars are superior in terms of safety. And by reducing traffic fatalities, it also reduces congestion and carbon emissions.

Every serious study of driverless cars has concluded that they’ll be safer than those driven by people. This shouldn’t be surprising. People are terrible drivers. Consider this: Some 93 per cent of road accidents are caused by human error. People do things they aren’t supposed to do on the road like driving drunk or texting. Sometimes, sleepiness is the cause of accidents. None of these things would happen with a driverless cars (a computer won’t get drunk, get distracted by a Whatsapp message or feel drowsy).

This isn’t to say there are no potential downsides. The most obvious one is that when driverless cars become commonplace, it’ll have a drastic effect on people who drive for a living ­— taxi drivers, Uber drivers, chauffeurs, etc. And if cars can be driverless, presumably so can trucks and buses, so you can also look at massive unemployment in those industries as well.

Traditionally, driving a taxi — or increasingly these days, an Uber — is a profession that many people who get retrenched fall back on. With the advent of driverless cars, driving a car for hire will no longer be a viable option for the newly unemployed.

The other serious potential pitfall is the fact that as cars become more of a digital device and less a mechanical one, it inevitably becomes more susceptible to hacking. Make no mistake, a driverless car will have a huge computing component to it. For a car to be driverless, it needs to not just be good at following set rules but also the ability to recognise patterns and prescribe appropriate responses. This requires a powerful computer. What if someone hacks into it? At best, he decides to just stall the car. At worst, he can make it crash.

Speaking of crash, each time a driverless car crashes — and this will inevitably happen as no system is foolproof — it will be big news. Remember the news about a Tesla Model S which crashed into a truck resulting in the death of the man inside it, in Florida? (Technically, you could call him the “driver” of the car but he wasn’t driving at the time as the car was on autopilot).

An investigation into this high-profile driverless car crash by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) cleared Tesla of any defects in its car. As such, there was no need for a recall of that model, which was a “smart car” that had systems capable of maintaining speed and distance to other cars on the road, lane position and overtaking.

The NHTSA said that the driver didn’t apply the brakes and that he “should have been able to take some action before the crash, like braking, steering or attempting to avoid the vehicle. He took none of those actions.” The agency added that the truck should have been visible to the driver for at least seven seconds before impact.

SAVE LIVES, SAVE THE PLANET
Of course, car crashes happen every day and highway accidents aren’t uncommon. So why would a car crash, involving a driverless car, receive more attention than one that had a driver behind the wheel? Because driverless cars are new and fascinating,so they naturally draw more public scrutiny and attention when something bad happens.

And whenever a driverless car is involved in a fatality, you can be sure that there’ll be some hysterical reaction to it, with some people calling for a ban and others boycotting such cars. That might not be a logical thing to do given that all studies so far have indicated that driverless cars would be much safer than people-driven cars. But people are generally more emotional than rational when it comes to transportation-related deaths.

Look at the case of plane crashes. Whenever that happens, it’s big news and a certain segment of the population will swear off flying anytime soon. Logically, it makes no sense to do that because statistically speaking, planes are way safer than cars when it comes to fatalities. It’s rare that people die in a plane crash but people die in traffic accidents every day.

Whatever misgivings you might have about driverless cars, know this: They’re happening. Driverless cars are the future of the automotive industry and its ascendance is just a matter of when, not if.

For sure, there’ll be car aficionados who’ll want to buy vintage cars that need to be driven by humans. They’re not too different from those who collect vinyl records. But for the rest of us, we can look forward to being driven wherever we want to go. And when that day comes, there’ll be fewer accidents and deaths, as well as less traffic jams and pollution. That’s really something to look forward to.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com.

Sunday
Feb052017

Bullet journalling for mindfulness 

Bullet journalling for mindfulness
By OON YEOH
5 February 2017

WHEN you talk about a hot new trend that many young people are adopting, you’d naturally think it’s something mobile or online and certainly, something digital. You’d never imagine that it’d be something analogue.

Yet, “Bullet Journalling” in its strictest sense involves a real, physical journal or notebook. This is a system created by a designer named Ryder Carroll, who apparently spent two decades developing this system to stay organised.

So, is it a “To Do List” or a diary? Actually, it’s a bit of both. In a nutshell, it entails taking a physical notebook and using it to create an index of topics and page numbers, a “Future Log” of things that you need to do, and a “Daily Log” which contains bullet point notes about the things you’ve done during a particular day.

There’s an art and science to bullet journalling and Carroll explains it succinctly in his official website (http://bulletjournal.com), where you can watch a video of him demonstrating bullet journalling in action.

So, there is a “proper” way to bullet journal but it’s important to note that Carroll himself encourages people to customise and personalise their bullet journals to fit their needs and fancies.

It’s sort of like blogging. When blogging first emerged, there was a conventional way to blog which entailed including an excerpt from a website or web page, a link to that page and the blogger’s own comments about the topic. That was how the pioneer bloggers did their blogging.

As blogging became more mainstream, people used the blogging platform to publish as and how they wished. Some blogs stuck to the original conventions, others did away with excerpt and links, and just stuck to pure commentary.

And so it’ll be with bullet journalling as more and more people adopt this “To Do List”/Diary hybrid activity.

IN PRACTICE
I’ve been doing a version of this for some time now without having even heard of bullet journalling (this is a phrase that I came across relatively recently).

Perhaps, if I had heard of bullet journalling earlier, I might have tried to adopt the conventional way of doing it. But because bullet journalling was something I was doing without any reference points, I had my own way of doing it. And it’s all digital.

I haven’t written something in longhand on a piece of paper in years. The only time I scribble something with a pen is on the few occasions, when I have to send something off by snail mail and have to write the address on the envelope. Other than that, I usually type — either on my laptop or my mobile phone. In a sense, I’m more of a typist than a writer.

So, when it comes to my “To Do List” it’s all digital. There are “To Do List” mobile apps aplenty and lots of computer applications as well as online ones to help you keep track of the things you have to do in a day, a week or a month (or perhaps even in a year). But I go really basic with mine. I just use Google Docs.

While conventional bullet journalling has “Future Logs”, where you can plan things months in advance, I don’t go that far. I plan a week ahead at a time. Each day is broken up into Morning, Afternoon and Evening. On days when I have a particularly busy schedule and a lot has to be done, I become more precise and add additional categories for Dawn, Noon and Late Evening.

I then proceed to fill in all the things I feel I need to achieve during that day. It’s not necessarily realistic but more of an idealistic list of things I want to achieve. For the record, I almost never achieve all that I set to achieve for the day. So, I push forward things to another day. If possible, I try to push it to the next day but sometimes, I have something going on the next day that takes up all my available time. So I have to push it to another day.

I’ll spend quite a bit of time every day moving my chores around because so many unexpected things happen during the day that prevents me from getting everything I want done, done.

It doesn’t bother me much if I have a few items that I need to push to another day. I know it’s inevitable and I’m happy that at least, I can keep track of what still needs to be done. If I didn’t have that list, I’d be totally lost. It would literally be impossible for me to keep track of all I’ve got to do without an actual list like that.

ONLINE DIARY
The next bit is the journalling part. For that, I use an online logging application called Penzu. It’s basically an online diary and in it, I’d list down one by one, the things I do throughout the day. If I’m not in front of a computer, I’d enter “Done” items via my mobile phone.

Why not just cross out items on your “To Do List” as you do them?, you might ask. I log down what I do not for sentimental reasons (“Finally threw out the trash” isn’t exactly a memory worth cherishing). But rather, it’s so I have a record of the things I managed to get done which I can look through and reflect upon.

It forces me to think about how I do things and whether I could do them faster or better, or more efficiently. In other words, it forces me to be more mindful about even the everyday things that I do. And that’s important because if I’m not mindful of the things I do and how I do them, how can I improve?

I don’t assign equal importance to my “To Do List” and online diary because the former is more critical than the latter. I can afford to miss writing down what I managed to achieve. I can’t afford to not update the things I have to do for the day otherwise, very little gets done.

So yes, there are days when my Penzu pages are blank when I neglect to list down what I’ve done for the day. But there are no days when my “To Do List” is not updated. In fact, it gets updated several times a day. As things change around me, I adapt my “To Do List” accordingly. For example, if the kitchen sink starts leaking, I’d have to attend to it, which means there are things on my list that I can’t attend to. That’s fine. I can always push it to another day. And if I can keep track of it, at least I know it’ll be done, sooner or later.

If you’re a bit of a Moleskin fan or just like physical notebooks, then bullet journalling is something you really should try. You’ll see it changes your life and I don’t say that frivolously. You’ll be more efficient and effective in getting things done and you’ll be more mindful and thoughtful of the things you do. But if you’re more of a digital kind of person, try Google Docs and Penzu. It works wonders for me. I’m sure it’d do so for you too.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com

Sunday
Jan222017

Last man standing

Last man standing
By OON YEOH
22 January 2017

IN the world of content, we’ve seen industry after industry go the way of digital. The music industry was hit by the digital wave first with CDs replacing records and cassette tapes, then CDs giving way to MP3 downloads. Today, many young people don’t even bother with downloads but simply stream their music on their mobile phones.

We saw pretty much the same thing happen with movies and TV shows. Initially, we had VHS video tapes, which were replaced by VCDs. Those were quickly replaced by the superior DVD, which in turn, was replaced by the even better Blu-ray discs. There was an effort to offer videos via downloads, which never quite caught on, but video streaming is now very popular.

But what happened with books?

E-books have been around for nearly as long as digital music and videos but many people still prefer their books in print format. This is especially so in this part of the world, although books aren’t exactly dead in the Western world either. Yes, Kindle and other forms of e-books are very popular in the US and Europe but so are print books, which refuse to fade away.

People obviously prefer digital music and digital videos because they have so many advantages over their analogue version. But if you look at the features of e-books, you’ll find there are a lot of things to like about them too. In fact, in most respects they’re superior to print books.

Portability: You can carry thousands of e-books in your tablet or phone. It’d be hard to carry more than half a dozen print books in your backpack.

Storage: If you store e-books in your computer hard drive or external hard drive, you’re looking at tens of thousands of e-books that can be kept here. It wouldn’t take many print books to fill up your shelf.

Environmentally friendly: E-books are digital so they exist as data whereas print books involve the felling of trees. If you care about the environment, e-books are definitely a better way to go.

Price: When you compare the prices of a digital and a print version of a book you’ll always find that the digital version is cheaper for obvious reasons. There’s no ink or paper involved. There’s not much storage and distribution costs either (just servers and bandwidth as opposed to warehouses and delivery trucks).

Delivery Time: When you buy an e-book, you get instantaneous access. In contrast, for a print book you have to drive to a bookstore, park, purchase the book and drive back before you can read it. If you mail order the book, it can take days even if it’s a local order and weeks if it’s from overseas (unless you pay for super expensive courier delivery).

Durability: E-books don’t degrade over time. And even if you lose your phone or tablet, you can always re-download e-books that you have already purchased. Print books are made of paper so they can get torn, get wet, get mouldy and get misplaced.

Multimedia Capability: Although not all e-books have multimedia functions, there are e-books out there that have animation, audio, video and interactivity embedded. It takes the reading experience to a whole new level that print books can’t possibly do.

Readability: E-books have the ability for the text size to be changed. So, if you have good eyesight, you might prefer a smaller font but if your parents want to read that same e-book, you might want to adjust the font size for them. You can’t do that with printed books.

Searchability: Not only are e-book titles easy to search for, the text inside each book is also searchable. So, if you’re looking for a particular keyword or phrase inside a book, you just have to type it in the search bar. The print book answer to that would be the index but not all books have indices and they aren’t as easy to use compared to a search bar. In the future, publishers may have to close shop or find a cheaper business model for print books.

LURE OF PRINT

With so many clear advantages, why is it that many people still prefer print books? Some people say they like the fact that it’s easier to share a print book. Many e-books are copy protected so you can’t share them, whereas with print books you can, although not en masse (because you’re dealing with a physical object, obviously only one book can be loaned to one friend at any one time).

Others say they like the fact that with print books, you can jot down notes on the margins of the book (it’s worth noting though that you can also make notes on e-books though it’s by typing and not physically jotting).

But the overwhelming reason that’s given for preferring print books has to do with sentimentality. Almost everyone who says they prefer print books say they like the way a print book feels, they like the rustling sound that a page makes when you turn them, they even like the smell of a print book.

They basically like the physical presence of a book. It really has nothing to do with functionality. And because of that, it’s clear that in the long run, e-books will prevail just as digital music and digital videos have done. It’ll just take a longer time as we have to wait for a whole generation of readers who have little sentimental attachment to print books to come of age.

But market forces will be the main reason print books will be overtaken by e-books. Publishers and bookstores around the world are all downsizing. Even if you’re not aware of what’s happening in the book publishing industry you can see bookstores growing smaller and smaller as people aren’t buying books like they used to. The reason is probably information overload. There’s so much content online, they don’t feel the need to buy books anymore.

When this situation becomes too severe, publishers will have to make a tough decision on whether to close shop or to find a cheaper business model. Print is expensive. Digital is less so. It’ll take some time but within a generation or two, print books will become as quaint as vinyl records are today. The specialist collectors will still want them, but for the masses digital will be good enough.

Oon Yeoh is an consultant experience in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com

Sunday
Jan152017

The value of serendipity

The value of serendipity
By OON YEOH
15 January 2017

The Internet is such a great resource and tool. Because of it, we literally have all the information we want at our fingertips. Ironically it is narrowing, as opposed to broadening, our horizons as far as content is concerned. And the reason is due to a concept called “The Daily Me”, a term used by MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte to describe a virtual daily newspaper customized for an individual's tastes.

Of course the Internet allows for filtration that goes beyond just news. You can also filter for the kind of music or videos or discussion groups that you prefer. The Internet allows for very deep personalization of the content that we consume.

Let’s start with news. You can bookmark your favourite sources of news, be it a blog or news website. That’s a very crude form of filtration. But you can also personalize your Google News feed so that it shows more of things you like to read about. You can even create news alerts based on keywords. On very news-centric social media like Twitter, you can choose to follow specific sources of news and get only those feeds.

For music, you don’t have to rely on the radio anymore and you don’t have to buy albums. Just zero in on the specific tracks you want and buy them from iTunes or stream them on Spotify. For videos, it’s the same thing. You don’t have to rely on TV anymore. Just find the shows you want and either purchase them for download or stream them. You’ll get exactly what you want.

And what’s wrong with that? Isn’t this about giving the consumer what they want? It is, but we all know that being given just what you want isn’t always good for you. A child might want to eat chocolate bars all day long but that’s hardly a healthy diet. And so it is with the content that we consume. Being exposed to things beyond what we like is an important part of becoming a well-rounded person.

Let’s take news for example. Let’s say you are of a certain political persuasion. If all you read are news items from a specific political standpoint, you are going to end up being very narrow-minded and even extremist in your views. It’s fine to have a strong political stance but it should be tempered with exposure to the opposing viewpoint. That doesn’t happen when you filter your newsfeed to serve you only the kind of news and views that you agree with.

The great value of print is that when you browse through a newspaper or magazine, you are literally browsing through the pages. Despite the term “browsing the web”, people don’t really browse online. They click on specific links and skip everything else. You can’t do that with print and that actually broadens your reading exposure. While flipping through the pages, you’ll probably come across unexpected articles that pique your interest. And you end up reading about more things, including things that will pleasantly surprise you.  

Similarly, with music, if you listen to the radio, you’ll come across a wider range of music than you would be if you listened to just a set playlist that you yourself programmed.  And if you listen to talk radio, you’ll be exposed to topics that you didn’t expect or weren’t particularly interested in. Contrast that to if you only download podcasts by a certain personality who espouses a certain kind of view.

When I was growing up, there was no YouTube or Hulu or iFlix and no Astro or cable TV of any kind. So, we were forced to watch whatever was on the two or three channels that were available. This was terrestrial broadcasts we are talking about not demand TV, so it wasn’t possible to fast forward to a particular program. As a result I ended up watching documentaries, comedies, variety shows and TV series that I wasn’t particularly looking out for. I think this was a good thing. Despite the limited choices in programs, I actually ended up watching a wider range of things that I would if I could pick and choose what I wanted to see.

The thing is, there is great value in serendipity – a fancy word for “pleasant surprise”. It’s a very interesting word that was invented by Horace Walpole, and English art historian, in 1754 after he had read a Persian fairy tale called “The Three Princes of Serendip”. In that story, the princes were always making discoveries by chance.

In the age of the Internet, discovering things by chance is minimized and serendipity goes out the window. This minimizes your world view and limits your knowledge of society, culture and the arts. It inhibits you from becoming a well-rounded person. So, what can you do about it? Here are three simple things to avoid “The Daily Me” syndrome of consuming only the things you like and shutting out the rest of the world.

Be aware of your filters
Everybody has their own set of biases but not everybody is conscious of that. It helps to be aware that you have a certain set of preferences and what exactly those preferences are. By being cognizant of your personal biases, it gives you the chance to strive for some semblance of balance in what you consume and become exposed to.

Break out of your comfort zone
In order to grow and evolve as a person, you need to break out of your comfort zone. Otherwise, you’ll stay stagnant and become stale. It pays to occasionally purposely seek out reading materials, music and videos that you might normally not go for. Don’t always go for the same things, even though you enjoy them very much. Sometimes try out new stuff even if it makes you a little bit uncomfortable. 

Go offline
Digital content is great but sometimes you should intentionally unplug and seek out offline sources of content. When you are not in complete control of the playlist of the content you are consuming, you will accidentally come across content that you actually find interesting or useful even though you never expected it to be. It’s by going offline that serendipity can happen.

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. Reach him at oonyeoh@gmail.com