NOT A Disaster

It is a perfectly good Monday morning.  The kids are off to school without drama (mostly), and I arrive at the office a few minutes early.  The entire team is all smiles.  Why wouldn’t they be?  Someone brought donuts.  Yes, indeed.  The week is starting off pretty good.


I just sat down to continue working on a project that has kept me occupied for the past few months when I heard an explosion in the distance.  Within a few seconds, all the power in the building was off.  Completely dead.  Nothing.  As many of you are aware, stable electric power greatly enhances ones ability to operate computer equipment.  The sudden lack of power tends to cause problems, turning an otherwise great morning into something with the potential of going very bad.

But not in this case.  Within a few seconds, the vibrations of the backup generators pulsed throughout the building.  A few quick checks of the monitors and a visual inspection of the NOC indicated that all was well.  Disaster averted.

Of course, our response didn’t happen by accident.  We spend many man-hours developing and implementing our disaster recovery plan to protect ourselves against this type of situation.  And while we always hope for the best, we all know that eventually something bad will happen.

Most folks don’t need a plan sophisticated enough to handle a hosting operation, but everyone needs a DR plan of some type.  And while you can spend hours obsessing over probability of occurrence and severity of impact calculations, a good DR plan is constructed around two very simple questions: what data will you need, and how quickly will you need it?

The first question is the easiest.  It’s a straightforward exercise to determine what data (or applications) you need.  Most people already know.  If you need a guideline, try this.  Imagine that you just erased a bunch of data to make room for a new compilation of epic fail videos.  Now, picture your spouse/boss asking you to print something from the data you just erased.  How to envision that conversation going?  There’s your answer.

The how-quickly-will-you-need-it question is trickier.  Perhaps a better way to ask this question is, “How bad do you want it?”  In general, a correlation exists between recovery time and expense – the faster you want it, the more you’re going to have to pay.  If you can live without the data for a few days or a week, the $10 per month backup solution may be fine.  If you need 5-9s, 24x7x365 access, be prepared to open up your checkbook.

The cloud provides numerous options for disaster recovery, many of which did not exist a few years ago.  Many businesses, and certainly most home users, cannot afford to develop their own data centers.  Moving data and applications to a resource that can realize the economies of scale that come from a shared infrastructure is a very smart move.

The cloud, however, does not solve all problems.  This is best illustrated with a simple question – What if you can’t get to the Internet?  While the data may be safe, your staff of office workers is sitting idle.  Or worse…your grandmama can’t see her pictures.

The bottom line is that disaster recovery is not a one-time event with a one-time solution.  Preparation is a continuing process, gaining from the insight of each new experience.  Like all critical response, disaster recovery should be choreographed and rehearsed.  Otherwise, you’ll be left without a donut the next time the lights go out.


This Week in Tek

Tesla Scores Again – Have you read any of the reviews for the new Tesla Model X?  It’s the latest entry in Tesla’s line of 100% electric vehicles.  The Model X is officially listed as an SUV with seating for up to 7 adults.  However, this car contains a few non-SUV like features.  For example, this electric beast has 762 horsepower and can move from 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds.  (Are you kidding me?)  Keep in mind that at 5,300 lbs., the Model X is roughly the same mass as an Imperial AT-ST, so we’re talking about an engine equivalent to Anakin’s pod racer.  

As impressive as that sounds, the real beauty of this car lies within its electronics.  When equipped with the Tesla’s Autopilot package, the Model X performs a number of automatic and driver assist functionality.   The Model X is not the fully autonomous system we all want.   The driver must stay awake and alert.  However, under good driving conditions the Model X will happily take over steering as you watch and (eventually) relax.  Very cool.

The Model X has one big downside…well, two downsides if you consider the price.  I have not read a single positive review of the rear doors, a.k.a., the Falcon wings.  The rear door swing up to open, a la Doc Brown’s DeLorean.  Most reviewers think they are completely impractical and not suitable for everyday use.  Well, duh.  If practicality is your primary concern, you’re probably should not be looking to spend $100K+ for an SUV that can keep pace with a Ferrari Enzo, should you?

Note:  Tesla’s closest supercharging station is over 100 miles away, so it’s unlikely we’ll see Tesla’s in Augusta anytime soon.  (insert sad face here)

Bloodline – Leading up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lucasfilms released a series of novels to fill the gaps between the original trilogy and The Force Awakens.  Of these novels, Claudia Gray’s Lost Stars emerged as a clear fan favorite.  This story of two childhood friends growing up on a planet under Empire control puts a heart-warming, human face on the Empire, and more importantly, explains why Star Destroyers liter the landscape of Jakku.

Claudia Gray’s new and highly anticipated Star Wars novel, Bloodline, is now released.  The story takes place six years prior to The Force Awakens and centers on Princess Leia Organa.  Essentially, Bloodline provides the backstory for all the major questions in The Force Awakens.  Why doesn’t Leia trust the New Republic?  What is the First Order?  How did the Resistance begin?

Bloodline provides all the answers and adds a new dimension to The Force Awakens as you watch the DVD  for the 14th time.  We still have several months before Rogue One is released, so go download Bloodline now.  Really, what do you have to lose?

In Case Your Forgot Mother’s Day – Do you remember the first digital picture frame you purchased?  I bought my wife one about 10 years ago.  We thought it was such a great idea!  At the time we only had a few thousand pictures, and the digital frame seemed like a great way to move those pictures from the computer to the living room.  We spent an entire Friday evening selecting the 20 or so best pictures to display.  It was a lovely, newlywed-like experience journeying through the memories of our early relationship and the birth of our children.  We talked about how we would update the pictures regularly as our life together continued to evolve.

Ten years later, those same pictures still rotate through that same digital frame, sitting in an unused room in the attic.  While a great idea, the digital picture frame suffers a single fatal flaw.  Updating images via USB is highly susceptible to fail.

Nixplay’s Seed Wi-Fi Digital Photo Frame may be the affordable solution to the picture frame fail.  Instead of transferring pictures via USB or other media, Nixplay provides a mobile app that transfers pictures directly to the frame over Wi-Fi.  Multiple frames can be fully managed from the Nixplay web apps, and up to 1000 pictures can be presented on a frame at any one time.

We bought one for my Grandmother for Mother’s Day.  We thought this would be a nice alternative to downloading pictures from the iPad.  The Nixplay turns out to be a very nice system.  With a sub-$150 price tag, this is a present that all Moms would love.

But since Father’s Day is up next, get one for Dad.  He’ll like it, too.


Living at 3%

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure to see Cirque de Soleil in Atlanta.  The show is spectacular!  If you don’t have plans to see it, you are missing an opportunity.  The show runs through May 8th.  If you can get tickets for this weekend, go see it!  You’ll love it!

But this column isn’t about Cirque.  It’s about the trip to Atlanta.

Specifically, a common scenario plays out on a regular basis.  I suspect that many individuals and families experience something similar.  Basically, it goes something like this – After getting into the car, one or both of my daughters hand us their phone while saying,

“Mommy, please plug in my phone.  I’m at 3%.”

Several questions occur to me when I hear this request; foremost among them is “How?”  We are 10 years into the age of mobile devices.  By now, I would think that everyone understands that these devices run on batteries, and that to work effectively, the batteries need to be charged.  Common sense would imply that if you want to use your phone on a 2-hour car ride, maybe you should start with a fully charged device, yes?

Apparently, though, many folks prefer to live on edge.

OK, granted.  This isn’t really a fair scenario.   The car is a well-known power oasis.  However, this doesn’t negate the fact that many folks still haven’t learned to manage their battery life.  Just ask yourself, how many times to you have to plug in every day to stay charged?  If it’s more than none, you either need to lay off Facebook or take a look at some common battery saving techniques.

Stay Cool – Battery capacities decreases as the temperature rises above 72 degrees, and exposing batteries to temperatures greater than 95 degrees may cause permanent damage.  While an inconvenient truth for us Southerners, heat damage to batteries is a fact that we must acknowledge.  Keep your phone cool!

Don’t Push Me – Have you noticed that every app wants to send you notifications?  Why?  If something is really important, someone will call.  Everything else is a distraction.  A distraction that lights up the screen, vibrates the phone or makes an electronic beep.  Why waste your valuable battery on annoyances?  Turn off all push notifications.  If a notification is truly needed, use fetch.

Save Your Screen– The largest power drain on most phones is the display.  A few techniques exist to reduce the display power usage.  If you are on an Android with an AMOLED display, use dark wallpaper.  The AMOLED technology uses less power to illuminate a dark pixel than a light one.  And all mobile device users should reduce their screen brightness.  A bright screen requires more power and will quickly drain the battery.

Track Location Services – Location services is another power sucking feature used by app developers.  Every time an app reaches out for your location, additional power is used.  While it’s nice to have your pictures tagged with location, not every app needs your location.  Only enable Location Services for those apps with benefit you.

Know Your Wi-Fi – Personally, my largest power issues occur when I forget to turn off Wi-Fi.  This is counter to most advice, since in general, Wi-Fi consumes less power than cellular.  In my case, I’m often in environments with unknown networks, and I find that my phone uses more power trying to connect to those unknown hot spots.   Since I’m not a big data user, I can simply leave my Wi-Fi turned off.  Device manufactures will suggest using Airplane mode.  Either way, you should be aware of your radio environment and connect accordingly.

I’ve found that by implementing these techniques I am able to go almost 2 days on a single charge!  Of course, your results may be different, but I hope that you can increase the amount of time you go between charges.  Good luck!