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where I share my favorite tips, tools, reviews and commentary on web design, marketing, blogging, new media and related topics. For more about this site and the voice behind it, check out my About page.


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Archive for Essential Tools


Can Your Data Survive a Computer Disaster?

Posted by: Char | Comments (0)

If you have a computer then you have valuable information on that computer, whether it is design projects you have done over the years, business files or just a few hundred photos of your puppy Rex making that puppy face for the camera. Losing all those valuable files is a great way to ruin your day! Computers are reliable for the most part, but we all know bad stuff happens to them all the time - laptops get stolen or left on the train, hard drives get the click of death, your daughter Suzy accidentally deletes all your files while trying to figure out where she downloaded that cool new video. It just happens.

So, how do you protect your data?

TDK 4.7GB 16X DVD-R 100 Packs Disc Model DVD-R47FCB100Over the years I have tried many different methods for backing up my computer files. Back in the 90s, I would burn files to CDs whenever I got a “hunch” that something might be getting ready to fail me. Then in the early days of this site, I got a Firelite external hard drive and while I could schedule how often I wanted to run backups, more often than not, the program just didn’t work as advertised.

Then last year, after one too many close calls with data loss, I decided there had to be an easier way!  After researching a variety of online backup options, I decided to sign up for the free Carbonite trial (which did not even require a credit card – another plus). Within days  it was apparent that I had found the solution that worked for me – I didn’t even wait for the 15 day free trial to end – I gladly paid $54.95 for the year.

Why Carbonite works for me.

  • First, and foremost, they give you a free 15-day trial to let you really make sure their product is a good fit for your needs.
  • It is real time -  within minutes of downloading a file or modifying a file Carbonite has identified the new file, put it in the queue, and has sent it up to to the backup server. Note – the very first time you set up your files for back up it is going to take hours, but once you get going, it is pretty close to immediate!
  • It is automatic. I am juggling waaay too many things to remember to schedule a back up for my files. Carbonite takes the stress off me, because it backs up my files automatically.
  • Carbonite is secure. They use the same encryption technology used by the online banking industry.
  • I can access my files from anywhere. If I am working on my laptop in my favorite Starbucks and need a file from my desktop computer I can get it. Simply login to Carbonite, go to Remote Access and get whatever file you need for the day. No remembering to put something on a flashdrive, it’s there.
  • The file recovery process is one-click easy. Nothing complicated here – a simple click of the restore button and you are back in business. With some plans you even have the power to decide which files are restored first, saving you even more time.

Put to the test, Carbonite came through.

How to survive a Computer disasterActually, Carbonite passed the test with FLYING colors. About a month ago a nasty computer virus managed to get past my virus protection and did some pretty crazy stuff to my system files. The only solution was to reformat my entire computer. I was a little stressed about possibly losing data, but since I could see every one of my files from my laptop through the Carbonite interface, I was confident all would be fine.

Once my hard drive had been reformatted I simply logged into my Carbonite account, installed the Carbonite software and ran the recovery program. Granted, it took about 12 hours to restore all my data, but EVERY last file made it! Talk about relief. That was 15 years of business and personal files that I could have potentially lost.

Carbonite is one of my essential tools for business – and at $54.95 a year, that is a small price to pay for the peace of mind that comes with knowing my files are there – where ever and whenever I need them.

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essential toolsSince today is International Freelancers Day, it seems fitting to feature freelance writer Laura Spencer of Writing Thoughts and Freelance Folder in this installment of Essential Tools. Laura has 19 years of professional business writing experience and is an excellent resource for writers and freelancers alike (I personally like her round up of 12 Must Reads for Writers – on getting started, what to charge, how to grow and more).

So, what tools does a freelance writer use on a daily basis in today’s technology based economy? In Laura’s own words:

  • WordPress. I realize that probably everyone says this, but it’s true. WordPress is one of my top tools for the various blogs that I write for.
  • Microsoft Office. Most of my non-blog clients require that I use MS Word.  I’m also a heavy Excel user for keeping a wide variety of statistics.
  • Twitter. Although I have other social media accounts, this has become my social media of choice primarily because of the ease of use. I also like the DM feature.
  • Google Docs. I’ve found this to be a great way to collaborate with others and share information.
  • Flickr. This is a great source of Creative Commons licensed images. Many of the photographers are quite gifted.
  • Gimp 2. I’d actually like something a little more full-featured than this, but for now this works well.
  • WOT. This little Firefox add-in tells me whether I’m on a reliable site or not. It’s in my toolbar, and I don’t even have to think about it. The color lets me know if a site is safe.
  • Skype. I use Skype to connect with clients as well as to stay in touch with family that’s not local.

To keep up with Laura and her insights on writing and freelancing, be sure to follow her on Twitter.

Subscribe to the Essential Keystrokes feed so you don’t miss a single Essential Tools feature. If you are interested in sharing your essential tools for business, drop me a line at cpolanosky [at] gmaildotcom.

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Essential Tools of Amanda Bucklow

Posted by: Char | Comments (1)

This week’s Essential Tools series features Amanda Bucklow, a commercial mediator, instructor, blogger (at Mediation Times) and consultant who is a leader in her fields’ technology use. Amanda, along with Tammy Lenski, co-founded the Mediation Business Summit virtual conference, where I will be speaking later this month on the topic of website essentials for small businesses.

In Amanda’s own words:

My interest in technology and the web goes back many years. I had an email address and no one to email! I am naturally an early adopter and while that has been an expensive exercise, it has been fun. I am completely self taught and enjoy the adventure of being absorbed in learning a new skill. (I consider an essential tool as it provides the best tutorials on everything from web design, digital photography, Excel and more.)

I do all my own graphics for my web sites and I am a passionate photographer so life would be very difficult without Photoshop and IllustratorTopaz filters are an essential tool for my graphics as they allow me to create a more arty feel.

As for my daily tools:

  • One of the best additions to my toolbox this year has been Evernote . I particularly like that I can send a tweet that I don’t have time to explore when it whizzes by. I gather them all up on Evernote for reading later together with web pages and screen shots. Having them grouped together like this often gives me a great idea for a blog post and the links are already there for me to create connections.
  • 1Password (Mac only) has been a blessing and helped me develop a better protocol for creating passwords. I am now happy to use a complex password because I know that I have the info on hand, secure and backed up. I just need to get it on my BlackBerry.
  • For my web site I use AdaptYourCMS.  This is not a perfect set up but it makes updating my web site very easy indeed. I can add documents, videos and, best of all, any number of secure zones and membership areas which I use extensively for my training. Each course is a community of its own and I find that providing the platform for people to engage with each other before and after the classroom sessions makes for better outcomes at assessment. The friendships created during training can become a real source of support and encouragement for fledgling mediators. I know I still value mine from 15 years ago. Providing students with a ready made home has been a great success.
  • Twitter. I haven’t taken to Facebook at all except to keep in touch with my nephews and niece who don’t seem to be able to communicate any other way! I do remember it took me about a week to send my first Tweet – I couldn’t imagine that all those strangers could possibly be interested in what I might have to say! Phil Gerbyshak is entirely responsible for my besottedness with Twitter. He was one of the first to follow me back and start a real conversation. The discipline of saying something interesting in 140 characters is a very good one to have.
  • One of the best gadgets I have ever used are my Flip video which is with me wherever I go. I can’t believe such a small thing can produce such high quality video and audio.
  • Even more cherished is my Livescribe 2 GB Pulse Smartpen. I have no idea how I managed without that before I had one. Interviews are a doddle now. I like very much that I can pay attention to the person I am talking to rather than be looking at my notes. One keyword and you can find the part of the interview just by pointing the pen at the paper. Magic.
  • The tool I would really like is Blackberry Messenger on the iPhone. I would love to switch to the iPhone as I am a complete Apple fan but the BlackBerry Messenger is so good especially when I am working abroad and need to keep in touch with my training partner. I takes the stress out of meeting up and changes in plans. I like the encryption on the BlackBerry but it is useless for browsing the web.

Thanks Amanda for sharing such a great assortment of tools – some of which are totally new to me and I can not wait to go try out!

Subscribe to the Essential Keystrokes feed so you don’t miss a single Essential Tools feature. If you are interested in sharing your essential tools for business, drop me a line at cpolanosky [at] gmaildotcom.

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