About Anything

The personal blog of Al Stevens. Focus is overrated.

Archive for March, 2008

Carbonite — two years of files on my disk and I’m not worried

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Until about two years ago, I backed up important data only if I found myself waking up at night and then I didn’t do a very good job of it. Copying key folders to a file server or burning a DVD were parts of my haphazard solution. When I did need to recover a file, it was always hit-or-miss, digging through the various copies. For some projects, I did use a version control system (subversion), but the overhead and discipline required limited its use to software developments. Everything else, Office files, images, text files and email sat vulnerable to a mistake by me or a disk failure.

Then I installed Carbonite. It’s not free — it costs roughly $50 per year, but it’s so easy to use and provides so much peace of mind  that I don’t give the price a second thought.  It integrates with XP as if it came with it — actually as if someone other the Microsoft designed it. Right click a file or folder to back it up or remove it from the backup and you’re done. To restore a missing file open up the Carbonite directory and select the file — you can restore it, or a previous version.

Restoring a file is not instantaneous — it can take several minutes, or even longer for a big file, but it does come back, usually faster than searching through a bunch of DVD’s or directories on a server for the right copy.

Fortunately, I’ve not yet needed to recover the entire file system ,but I did buy a new laptop and used Carbonite to transfer most of my old files. This was remarkably easy — I uninstalled Carbonite from my old laptop, installed it on the new one, registered my new laptop and the Carbonite directory appeared. It took only a few minutes to select the files I wanted restored and by the end of the day, they were all there, along with easy access to their backups.

It’s available at www.carbonite.com

Written by Al Stevens

March 25th, 2008 at 4:55 pm

EveryBlock — all news is local

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The earliest use of the tagline “all news is local” that I could find was as the title of an article by Peter Osnos of The Century Foundation. Osnos was writing about the closing of several local news bureaus in Rhode Island (www.tcf.org/list.asp?type=NC&pubid=1220). Osnos freely credits the line to Tip O’Neill who actually said “All politics is local”, pointing out “As Tip framed the notion, politicians and newspapers had best remember that their constituents care above all about what is happening in their lives; the big issues writ small.”

Google has since appropriated the line to describe their ability to customize news feeds based on location. In their words, “we analyze every word in every story to understand what location the news is about and where the source is located” (googlenewsblog.blogspot.com/2008/02/all-news-is-local.html). When I enter my zipcode on the Google News page, I do get a list of stories that are generally about my area. The problem is they are compiled by those same news organizations that, as Osnos points out, have closed their local bureaus and no longer actually report on anything local. Without real local news sources, how can news be local?

EveryBlock really is local. Their sources do include major newspapers but go far beyond them to include community weeklies, government sites listing building permits, crimes, and restaurant inspections as well as local specialty publications and local blogs and even further include sites like Yelp, Craigslist and Flickr. Led by Adrian Holovaty, who developed the ChicagoCrime (which is now part of EveryBlock) the team has integrated it all.

If you’ve ever walked by a work crew in your neighborhood and wondered “are they cutting into a gas line, removing a buried gas tank or or adding fiber?”, it’s here. Just check out the the street use permits. Crimes, photos, public housing, restaurant inspections can be quickly browsed, in map or list form and provide a real feel for what’s happening, where it matters most — in my neighborhood.

All this detail could be uselessly overwhelming if poorly presented. EveryBlock makes it easy to find what you want and fun to explore. One or two clicks click gets you a list of either what you want or where you want. But this is about “local” and “local” means maps. Zoom in to your neighborhood and pick a category — all of the relevant items are there, on the map ready to roll over and read.

There is a small problem, EveryBlock only covers Chicago, New York and San Francisco, so I can’t actually use it for anything that matters to me here in Boston. I eagerly anticipate it’s roll out in my fair city. For those of you in one of the three they currently cover it’s at www.everyblock.com.

Written by Al Stevens

March 16th, 2008 at 9:51 am

newsflashr — News the way it should be. In a glance, in depth.

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Hiawatha Bray raved in the Boston Globe today about newsflashr, a site that ranks newsfeeds transparently. I tried it and left it up in a Firefox tab all day. It’s effectiveness is a direct result of it’s simplicity. Select one of the topics: world, business, elections 08, technology, science, health, showbiz or sports and you get a cloud of “hot news topics” where, according to Gal Arav, the company founder:

– the size of the hot news topics corresponds to the number of news headlines
– the color of the hot news topics corresponds to their freshness

At a glance, you can see what’s going on. Today, under politics, “prostitution ring” was growing larger and staying red. One click and I was reading all about Spitzer (aka Client 9).

I’ve been a fan of Google reader until now, but this wins hands down. The “newsflashr cloud” is a much higher bandwidth way to see what’s happening. For the traditionalists, they have a feeds view, but I can’t see why anyone would use it.
Their site is www.newsflashr.com

Written by Al Stevens

March 10th, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Florida makes evolution a “scientific theory”

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The good news is that the Florida state Board of Education approved teaching standards that explicitly include evolution in the science curriculum. The Florida standards were reviewed in December, 2005 by the Fordham Institute and given an “F”, partly because evolution was not even mentioned. (See www.sptimes.com/2005/12/30/State/Florida_gets_an_F_in_.shtml). The new standards explicitly require the teaching of evolution and are supported by the scientific community — which really is good news.

The bad news is that the Board compromised with State Representative Marti Coley (R- Marianna) who pressured them to add the word “theory”. The compromise wording inserted by the Board was “scientific theory”.

Representative Coley tried to spin the compromise with a press release which highlights that “scientific theory” is not “scientific fact” (www.marticoley.com/releases/021908.htm) .

I’m not opposed teaching religion in schools — it should just be taught in courses like “comparative religion” or “religion and society”. It should not be taught as science, or allowed to influence how science is taught. Politicians who try to turn science teaching into religious propagandizing should be removed from office.

Written by Al Stevens

March 5th, 2008 at 2:48 pm