Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Preparing for a PC Disaster

There is always the potential for catastrophic loss on a personal computer. The threat list is long and is not limited to malicious software (Viruses), user error or hard drive crash. The solution is to put a tiered disaster recovery plan into place – TODAY! Now, did all of that read like one of a hundred ads you have seen on The Internet or appearing in your e-mail? Well, all of those advertisements are true.

Before computers, important documents were stored in bank safety deposit boxes or in hanging file folders in a desk. Items stored at home did not fare well if a fire or natural catastrophe occurred. During the mid-West floods of 2 years ago, the evening news was filled with images of people wading back into their damaged homes, shoveling mud out of basements and forlornly looking at ruined family photo albums.

In the early days of PC computing users backed-up data to floppy disks which were stored in fireproof safes. Some users had the misfortune of a fire in their workplace and discovered that diskettes stored in a safe had not burst into flames, but had been melted by the heat into black, synthetic puddles. All of the data was permanently lost – as well as their personal computers.

A few years ago a computer hard drive crash was a common occurrence. I used to be diligent in making backups to CDs of my personal data. Resumes, picture files, templates, spreadsheets all found their way onto CDs at least once a month. I must admit that I have become relatively complacent about backing-up and properly storing my computer data files.

At work all of my data is automatically backed-up to offsite storage in a fireproof, tornado-proof server farm. If my place of employment were to suffer fire, flood or some major catastrophe all of the data would be safe. But what about my personal data that I use at home and for school? I know the answer and it is, “Uh-oh!”

Lately I have been doing a personal computer component research assignment for my MEIT course at Cardinal Stritch University. I was specifically asked to look into backup devices and make a presentation for the class. While doing my research it made me think about what data I needed to ‘protect’. I have Vista OS, Adobe Creative Suite 3 and Office 2007 yet I can easily reinstall or obtain new copies as I am a licensed owner. Upon reflection, the key is to protect data files containing work that I created. Word processing documents, personal spreadsheets, digital photographs, design templates and Web-browser bookmarks.

So where does one start on putting together a disaster recovery plan? Begin by identifying and organizing the hard drive folders where your data resides. Pictures, documents and basically anything that you created or will create need to have specific locations.

The next step is to implement a backup system for your data. A system can be a mix of several solutions including free online storage, CDs, and external storage drives. Backup the data folders you identified at a set interval – ideally the briefest possible window of time ensuring nothing is corrupted or lost. If you have a small amount of data consider creating periodic .Zip files and e-mailing to your free Google or Yahoo account. An important point to make is that if the backup system for data is not automated then one needs to commit and schedule reminders and follow through on the action plan. I mentioned backing-up bookmarks earlier, consider using a social bookmarking application such as Delicious which automatically syncs your bookmarks with their server.

Finally, storing your backed-up data offsite is critical to the disaster recovery process. Rent a safety deposit box and place your external storage devices (USB Drives, CDs, etc.) in the bank vault. Better yet, why not consider an online storage solution like Mozy? Many online storage providers allow one to setup automated backups of data to their facilities. With online storage you can access your data files from anywhere and the automated backups remove the ‘human factor’ from backing-up and driving your data across town to the bank.

Having said all that, I really should backup my Dell computer right now. I really should. Well, maybe after I light the charcoal grill next to the house. I better use extra charcoal starter, it’s very windy out. What could go wrong?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Preparing for the Classroom of Tomorrow

I was asked to Blog about what the classroom of tomorrow will look like, how will this affect teachers and students and what I should be doing to prepare. I don’t have the ability to predict the future but I can make observations on what is happening today and might happen tomorrow. Sigh, If only Miss Cleo still had her Psychic Friends Hotline I could make a phone call and know what tomorrow will bring. So after a week’s reflection on these questions this is my ‘Crystal Blog’.

The America as we once knew it, flush with cash and a leader producing an educated, technologically innovative labor pool is on the decline. This is not a failure of public and higher education. Rather it is a reflection of America’s changing economy and American businesses no longer driving domestic demand for advanced labor skills. Globalization erased borders and now businesses flow with little resistance towards the least expensive means of producing goods and services. In economic terms this means balancing the mix of fixed and variable costs to maximize profits.

Let’s look at the costs of producing an educated populous. School districts have fixed capital costs in buildings, heating, cooling, electrical systems and maintenance. Relatively recent additions to fixed costs are networks, computers and electronic whiteboards. Districts’ variable costs are generally but not limited to teachers and salaries. In the current economic times district budgets are examined, re-examined and pared to maximize return on investment.

Okay, so what does the future hold for the classroom of tomorrow? Let us start by looking at where we are today. School districts and teachers have clients in the form of students and taxpayers. Teachers deliver ‘product’ using available means. Taxpayers balk at adding more teachers yet demand greater results. In effect, they are saying that the capital improvements have been made and now demand a greater return on investment.

The classroom of tomorrow will have traditional face-to-face classroom learning blended with computerized solutions. Students will still need to learn how to read and write but as we incorporate computers they will also need to learn how to interface with educational technology. A transformative shift must also occur where computers are no longer perceived as toys but as a means to research, communicate and learn. The transformation will require greater diligence for parents ensuring that children are doing schoolwork on computers and not playing games. Since parents are paying for the education via taxes and they demand better product, they too need to understand their role in the process.

Teachers will create lesson plans that combine online digital resources and classroom activities. Lesson plans may include guest speakers via The Internet, interactive Web-sites (Geography, Mathematics, English, etc.) and Web-based homework assignments encouraging research and electronic submission. The classroom of tomorrow demands that teachers expand their repertoire from the bricks and mortar classroom to the virtual classroom and resources on The Internet.

Initially, the teachers of today will require retooling via programs such as the Cardinal Stritch University MEIT. However, as time passes and we move through this computerization ‘bubble, new educators will enter the workforce and the blended approach of classroom and computerization will be the new norm. New educators will already have had the experience as students in the classroom of tomorrow and will carry their experiences forward, innovating and creating new blended solutions.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Computer history for Brian Adams

My first personal computer experience was with an IBM 3270 PC in 1986. I had been working for several years as a Mainframe programmer when I took a job with a subsidiary of Tenneco. I was more than surprised when my new desk included a personal computer tied into the IBM Mainframe! The IBM 3270 PC was really an IBM PC XT with a 3278/3279 emulation board, 640 KB of RAM, 10 MB of disk storage, 2 5.25" floppy drives with an IBM Color Graphics Adapter.

Up until this time, I worked mainly on terminals and I had one screen. The IBM 3270 PC computer had special software allowing me to have five windows running concurrently. I used four for mainframe sessions and it was very useful. I could work on code in one window, compile code in another, review compiler output and execute all at the same time. Overnight I went from being limited to one at activity at a time to running parallel processes. It was truly a remarkable machine and I will never forget the awe and excitement I felt with this computer.

I soon found myself waiting for the office copy of PC Week to arrive and would read it cover to cover to learn about the latest software and hardware offerings. To the chagrin of the IT Department, the accounting and marketing departments were sneaking personal computers in the back door for analysis and promotional work. I wound-up working with these departments to pull mainframe data down to the personal computers in a format that could be used by spreadsheet and graphical software.

Within a year of my IBM 3270 PC I had a toolkit in my desk so I could upgrade computer memory, disk drives, video adapters, etc. I could pull chips, add math co-processors and had become a PC Geek. Looking back, that period of time was exciting, revolutionary and a remarkable leap forward.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Video Conferencing

This past week I acquired a Logitech Web camera with a built-in microphone so that I could initiate and participate in Video Conferences. The Web camera was quite easy to setup on my MS-Windows computer. I played with the pan and scan features, light settings and ability to catch still images. But wouldn't it be nice to see others over The Web?

I decided to investigate a Video Conferencing program called Skype. I had heard of Skype in my MEIT Course at Cardinal Stritch University. Skype has free audio and video and some extras for a fee. To check-out Skype for yourselves just click on Skype to learn more. I installed Skype and was impressed with how easy it was to verify my audio settings and locate classmates that already had Skype accounts. Later in the day I was in a Video Conference with Louis Loeffler and the audio and video were crystal clear.

My first experience with Video Conferencing was in the 1990's. Video conferencing was an expensive endeavor requiring and ISDN Modem and leased lines. All of this equipment was tied to one computer in a physical conference room. Also, one had to pay a conference provider such as AT&T, PolyCom or MCI for the use of their Audio/Video Bridge.

The mid-1990's saw the advent of desktop cameras with proprietary technology often requiring a special video card for the computer. The quality of these systems were marginal at best. Slow connections would cause a camera to freeze for a 10-15 seconds capturing a participant in mid-yawn or with eyelids closed. Nothing is more distracting than watching someone caught in a yawn for seconds while the audio moves ahead.

Let's fast forward to 2009. Wow, what a difference a new millennium can make for Web-based video conferencing. When I used Skype with Louis Loeffler and later with my classmates the video and audio were fast and clear. I kept waiting for a camera freeze capturing a participant with eyelids down or face scrunched - and none of that ever happened.

I used to think of Web-based video conferences as a waste of bandwidth - now I see (pun intended) that the audio and video technology is excellent and most affordable.

So Instead of This -

I know have THIS!