UPS update: What’s new, what to remember

There are several products every computer owner should have, to protect their hardware, software, and data. On the software side, this includes anti-virus/anti-malware, a firewall, and other security software.

On the hardware side, a UPS — Uninterruptible Power Supply — to protect against power glitches and outages.

(And a backup, in case something does happen.)

UPS update: What's new, what to rememberProblems with electric power can do everything from scramble the data on your hard drive or interfere with current work to causing your hardware to wear out faster — or even destroy key components instantly.

And even in the best locations, the quality of electrical power is subject to events that can send bad power to your computer. It doesn’t have to be a lightning strike; big-motor gear like an air conditioner, or other devices, on the same circuit, can reduce the power or send noise down the line. Or something can cause the circuit breaker to trip, resulting in zero power to the outlet.

A UPS includes a surge protector to guard against “bad” power — surges, spikes, and noise. And it also includes a battery, allowing the UPS to provide power (“run time”) to your computer even when not enough, or none, is coming in.

In general, small office/home office (SOHO) UPSs are intended to let your gear keep working throughout brief power interruptions of a few seconds or less, and give you the time to close files and shut down the computer in an orderly fashion if there’s a longer power outage (minutes to hours). (A UPS may then keep your cable modem and router going for an hour or more — or it may not. But it’s not good for the UPS battery to be drained all the way down.)

Buying the Right UPS

For desktop/SOHO users, UPSs are available for anywhere from $50 to $200.

UPSs come in several main “topologies” (types), and also vary in two dimensions of capacity.

To vastly oversimplify, for SOHO users, the types of UPSs available are Standby, Line-Interactive, and On-Line.

A Standby UPS, a.k.a. Off-Line UPS, switches over the battery only when the wall current voltage falls below a certain level or goes out completely. This is the least expensive type of UPS, it’s what most people get.

A Line-Interactive UPS can supplement low power levels from the battery.
Affordable; a good choice.

An On-Line UPS is the most expensive — and best — type of UPS, always providing clean power at the right voltage level. Good if your power is subject to lots of interruptions, micro-outages, sags, or surges and spikes.

For most SOHOs in places where daily power quality is good, a Line-Interactive UPS should be sufficient.

In addition to “type,” to buy the right UPS, you need to:

  • Know how much power all the devices you want to provide backup power to would use, for example your a desktop, a flatscreen, cable modem, and home router. Many UPSs will detect if you are plugging in more devices than the battery can power and will refuse to work – so you won’t have the illusion you’re protected when you’re not.
  • Know how long you want device(s) to run.

Once purchased and installed, a UPS for home or office needs close to no upkeep — but there are few important things to know and do.

Taking Good Care of Your UPS

  1. Test the UPS. Once the battery is charged up, plug in a desk lamp or a radio, turn it on, and (gently) remove the UPS power cable from the wall outlet. Does the lamp or radio stay on? Now test again with the computer gear you intend to plug into the UPS.
  2. Make sure the UPS is well ventilated. Like any electrical device, a UPS gives off heat. Don’t leave paper next to it, make sure it can get good air flow.
  3. Label the UPS with when you bought it.
  4. If it includes USB monitoring software, consider using it. (For what it’s worth, I’ve never done this — so far.)

UPS batteries typically are good for two to four years. They don’t just fail all at once; over time — and the more your UPS is asked to provide its backup power — they’ll have less capacity (run time) — be able to power gear for even fewer minutes. You may be able to get third-party replacement batteries for a good price, but shop cautiously!

UPSs themselves should be replaced — there’s no standard answer, but the consensus is somewhere between five and seven years. Mark your long-term calendar! (And update the UPS label — and your calendar — when you replace the battery.)

Buying a good UPS or replacing the battery every few years translates to about a dollar a week. The cost of a problem — lost productivity or replacing hardware — for even one event during this time frame would be many, many times that — and the likelihood of at least one such event is high. So don’t be a misplaced optimist — go get that UPS today!

 

MozyHome

 

Reminder, basic quick fixes for troubled gear

Reminder, basic quick fixes for troubled gearEven the best of computers and other electronic gear hiccups occasionally. You want to save your electronics, but you don’t want to throw good money after bad with expensive new parts or paid support. Before you junk that old gear, here are some tips for spending ten or twenty minutes addressing the issue before asking yourself the “repair or replace” question.

While there’s a lot that we as end users can’t or shouldn’t do — or even attempt — to fix them, there’s still often a fair number of things we can try, and problem we can fix or otherwise make go away.

This isn’t new to computers. If you’re old enough and have lived in cold climates, you may remember hearing your car fail to start, instead making an odd clicking sound — which, if you were knowledgeable and lucky — could be fixed quickly with a few whacks of a hammer, wrench or other solid object. How? If the problem was that the solenoid (relay switch) on the starter motor had frozen stuck, whacking it often unstuck it. (For dramatic effect when helping a friend, you would tell them to turn the key before you strike.)

With electronics, physical force is rarely the solution. Instead, there’s other things to try — obvious things in theory, but easy to lose track of if you haven’t had to do it to a given device lately.

1.) Check the power, power cord, and power switches.

Is the power cord fully plugged in at both ends? For example, the router in my home office is placed such that it’s easy to unseat the power cord and not notice — which in turn whacks wireless connectivity.

Is the wall outlet on? Some are connected to light switches; it’s easy to forget this. Check by plugging in a radio or light or something.

Are all the power switches on the device on? Many computers, printers, and displays have a power rocker-switch in the back, where it isn’t visible. This includes many computers that have a front-side on switch.

Ditto for any intermediary UPSs, surge protectors or power strips — are they plugged in and powered on? Again, check using a light or radio or some other device.

2.) Check the fuses. (More common with stereo and home theater gear.)

This may involve opening up the chassis — don’t do this if you don’t know how to do it safely! And make sure you use the correct fuse to replace one that you think has blown.

3.) For battery-powered devices, check the battery.

If you have a spare that you know has a charge, try that. If you can recharge the battery, try that.

Also, if you can, take the battery out and look at the battery contacts. If they’ve become corroded (typically from a leaky battery), for example, have green or white powdery gunk on them, clean the contact off (carefully).

4.) Check all the non-power cables.

It’s easy for a cable to have come loose — or be damaged. Unplug and replug them. If everything was previously working, the odds are low that a cable has gone bad, but keep this possibility in mind if other fixes don’t work. And sometimes it’s one of the connectors.

5.) Power device(s) off, wait 30 seconds, and reboot.

This works astonishingly often. As my friend and colleague Michael Dortch said years ago, “If rebooting fixes it, it wasn’t a problem.”

6.) For Windows devices, try booting to SAFE MODE.

Sometimes you need to reboot several times, first two or three times to Safe Mode, and then one or two times to regular mode. From SAFE MODE, you may then want to try rolling back to a previous RESTORE POINT.

Here are some other quick tips that I have found helpful:

  • For devices with a backup battery you can access, check, and if possible and necessary, replace.
  • For devices with a BIOS, boot to the BIOS, and check the configuration.
  • For computers, if it boots but you can’t use it, try a spare keyboard and mouse, if you have any (which you ought to).
  • For WiFi problems, if there’s a physical switch on your device, check that. Either way, also check the settings in the BIOS.
  • Leave the device alone for an hour or two.

And of course, invest the money or effort to have a professional look at it. Often, like with cars, it will work fine when you try to demonstrate the problem to somebody else.

 

Mozy Stash

 

Making your important info available to you online

We’ve all got personal information that we don’t carry around with us but regularly or occasionally need to find. Often it’s also information we are concerned that we don’t lose, e.g., in the event of a computer crash, house or office fire or theft, etc.

For example:

  • A copy of our driver’s license, passport, or other identification documents
  • Copies of credit cards
  • Passwords for key online accounts, including account numbers for financial ones
  • Key personal documents, like Power of Attorney documents (our own, or one giving us PoA), Health Care Directives and Proxies, wills, marriage license, etc.
  • Medical history, including current prescriptions, health insurance, and list of physicians
  • Inventory list of computer, camera, phone and other gear, including serial numbers
  • Software license keys
  • Travel itineraries.
  • Photos of yourself, family members, pets.

Some of this information is important but not “sensitive” — meaning that when you need it, you need it, but if somebody else were to get hold of it, no big deal. My guess is that software license keys might fall into the “less sensitive” arena. But even where information isn’t inherently sensitive, it might lead to some other aspect of your work or personal life being compromised, through savvy “social engineering” (phishing or other personal identity attacks). Some file types allow themselves to be individually password protected, such as PDF and ZIP files (depending on the tool being used to create it).

Secure Your Important Information OnlineOnce digitized, it’s possible to put this on your smartphone, tablet, or on a USB flash drive on your keyring — carefully protected, of course, by an encryption tool like TrueCrypt or 1Password. But this assumes you have the device or your keyring with you — which, depending on circumstances, may not be the case.

Fortunately, with the ever-greater accessibility of the Internet, you can park one or more copies online, often at no cost.

Two quick tips, first:

  1. Include an inventory document of what documents/information you’ve put together.
  2. Make a list of where you do end up parking copies — so when the master set of information gets updated, you can propagate the new version to all the places you’ve parked copies.

Ways and Places to Park Your Data and Documents Online

  1. Email them to yourself. Leave them in your INBOX, or in a mail folder that you can get to from web browser. This requires remembering your email password, but that’s the one you’re most likely to remember.Caution: If you use a mobile device or notebook to check your email, include encryption on the attached document(s), and/or other safeguards, like requiring the email password for each session.
  2. Park them in a password-protected directory in your web site.
  3. And don’t forget the directory name or password. Consider putting a hint in a file that you can find to bootstrap you in.
  4. Park them in a password-protected directory on your cloud storage space. (Again, be sure you’ve encrypted the actual files, individually, as well).
  5. If you have set up remote access to your computer, meaning you can access it from another computer, tablet or smartphone, e.g., using a remote desktop tool like GoToMyPC or LogMeIn.
  6. Send them to a friend or family member (again, as encrypted attached files) — pick someone who’s online often enough that they’re likely to respond quickly to a “Please send me those files ASAP” request.

And I’m sure there are lots of other places, ranging from social 2.0 accounts to “online safety deposit boxes.” Do a web search for “online safety deposit boxes,” for example, and, in addition to ones intended for your own immediate use, you’ll find ones designed to provide access only in the event of your death.

One final suggestion: Even if you do park the data online, you might still want to carry a password-protected encrypted copy with you — for those times when you’ve got your wallet, smartphone or keychain, but don’t have Internet access.

 

MozyHome

 

Cloud Roundup and Links of Interest – June 26

Retina MacBook vs. PC Laptops: The Battle Begins

At its recent Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple introduced the MacBook Pro with Retina display, its latest laptop. This appears to confirm that Apple will eventually merge its Air line with its MacBook line, a move long expected by Apple watchers.

Now that Apple has taken the wraps off its next-generation device, where does that leave the rest of the PC industry? PC World asks, “Can Apple’s new Retina MacBook Pro rain on the PC laptop or Intel’s Ultrabook parade? Or will Apple, once again, inspire another flood of PC clones as it did with the MacBook Air and the ensuing Ultrabook onslaught?”

Ultrabooks and other Windows-based laptops headed your way in the coming months are bound to be interesting once Microsoft releases the touch-friendly Windows 8, expected in October. Read more about it here.

Being More Productive With Mobile Tech

Businessman on mobile phoneThere’s no doubt mobile technology has changed our lives and the way we communicate. But it’s also a great way to keep ideas from fading away forever. ZDNet’s James Kendrick writes about the importance of having a mobile device handy at all times, and the benefits of being able to capture that great idea before your attention is pulled in another direction.

“Mobile technology plays a major role in my work, as it lets me capture ideas when they occur no matter where I am. Gadgets have evolved to be powerful information capture tools and also make content creation easy,” writes Kendrick.

“In the not-too-distant past many ideas would end up lost, but no longer. I grab information as it becomes available, and I use it to lay the groundwork for writing projects whenever a few minutes presents itself. I can leverage mobile tech to maximum effect, no matter what gadget I am holding.”

Seton Hall University Offers Lumia 900s to Give ‘Freshmen Experience’

Seton Hall University is going the extra mobile mile with an unusual initiative. It’s paired with AT&T and Nokia to distribute units of the popular Lumia 900 LTE Windows Phone to new incoming students in the class of 2016.

University faculty say the phones will help students have 24-7 access to Microsoft’s Office suite. They say the phone giveaway will provide a “more engaged and integrated learning experience,” according to DailyTech.

The phones also include an exclusive piece of content called the “Freshmen Experience”.

Something like a mini-social network, the feature “adds customized social media integration and direct communication channels with [students'] freshmen peers, peer academic advisors, housing information and roommates.”

 

Mozy Mobile Apps

 

Cloud relaxes the “9-to-5” working stigma

The New 9-to-5Rush-hour traffic jams and crowded commuter trains could soon be a thing of the past now that employers across the globe have spoken: It’s OK to get to the office at a time that’s convenient for you.

That’s not to say that employers are fine for every day to be a WFH (working from home) day. But they appreciate that most white-collar workers are busy on their smartphones, tablets or laptops while away from the office. And they believe workers should be cut some slack about when exactly they arrive at their desks.

According to our new research, the average boss has no problem with their employees showing up for work as much as 32 minutes after their scheduled start time, safe in the knowledge that they’ll have been working long before they arrive.

And they’re right! The average person has already put in 46 minutes of work before they walk through the office door.

However, employees have yet to realize the flexibility their bosses are willing to offer them, with 76% of employers taking a relaxed attitude as to when employees clock in, but less than half of workers believing this to be the case.

But employees expect a bit of a give and take in return for the time they’re putting in after hours – by carrying out some personal tasks during “work hours.” The majority of employees in the U.S., as well as in the UK, Ireland, France, and Germany, said they often fit in personal activities, such as online shopping and social networking, during the day.

And what’s driving this change? The cloud! Being able to access files remotely, use mobile apps and remotely log in to get documents from the office means that we’re now able to work when and where we choose.

So, if you want to go to your kid’s school play in the afternoon, you can still be in contact with the office for anything urgent, and you can finish up any work when you get home in the evening.

Which means, it’s goodbye to 9-to-5 and hello to spreading your work and personal life throughout the day when it’s more convenient for you

You can read all the findings from our research here: The New 9-to-5

What difference has mobile working made to your working patterns? We welcome your stories in the comments section.

Small Businesses Driving New Hires: Stats Show Online Jobs Are Hot

Small Businesses are Creating Online JobsWhen it comes to U.S. employment stats at mid-year 2012, there’s tough news and then there’s news that suggests one sector is starting to get better.

The tough news: businesses created only 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest in 12 months, and the unemployment rate rose to 8.2%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Signs of hope: when it comes to new employment, if there are heroes in our midst, they may be among the small businesses that are seeking an online workforce.

According to a recent small-business survey conducted by Elance, a leading global platform for online employment, 73% of the more than 1,500 small businesses polled in May 2012 said they planned to hire more online workers this year than in 2011.

That could drive a thriving online job economy. So, let’s take a deeper look at what’s happening with small businesses in the online hiring sphere, consider why, and think about what it may mean for the future.

The 1-in-3 Equation: Small Businesses and Online Talent as a New System

The snapshot of the survey suggests that small-business owners are not only flexing their hiring muscles but also turning to the cloud for job creation.

Why is this happening?

One reason for the increased attention to online workers may be that qualified professionals are increasingly making their talent available online.

Evidence: 40% of the companies surveyed claimed that they could already find better talent online than what was available locally.

“These results  . . .  support our prediction that 1 out of every 3 people hired in 2020 will be hired online,” said Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance. 

Cloud’s Edge: The Future of Employment Competition

If Rosati is correct, his numbers suggest that job-seekers would do well to pay attention to what small-businesses are saying about new and future hires.

Eighty-four percent of businesses surveyed stated that online hiring gives them an advantage over competitors. They talked about significant improvements in flexibility, meaningful cost savings, and increased productivity.

Furthermore, nearly 70% of the businesses polled indicated that they experienced faster times-to-hire and 55% said they are able to access talent not otherwise available.

It may be that the next half-decade is the determining timeframe, when it comes to the cloud and how job-seekers find new work.

In the survey, more than half (54%) of the businesses that answered the questions said that the majority of their workforce would soon be comprised of online talent — meaning everything from Web programming to design and content.

And this is just in the United States. Numbers in Europe skewed even higher, when it came to questions about online hiring and the next five years.

It’s the wave of the future, said Rosati, and it’s happening as close-by as the keyboard.

“As more companies realize the tremendous benefits of working with flexible, on-demand professionals,” he said, “online employment will expand as a core business strategy for businesses around the world.”

That could be great news, and a prompt for would-be members of the next-gen workforce: get into the cloud, and get busy with small-business. Good luck, job hunters!

 

MozyPro

 

Obsolete tech accessories to keep one of: A short list

As computers, home stereo/theater, and other technology products continue to change, so do the accessories they use, and the tools involved in fixing and maintaining them.

This means adding some new accessories and tools — but that doesn’t mean getting rid of all our old inventory, just pruning them. After all, many of us still have older devices we’re still using — or are asked by family and friends to help them with their older devices. (Or we buy them at yard sales, or get them from friends and family.)

Floppy DisksFor example, I’m still working on helping somebody do a full save from his old desktop computer, which is running Windows 95 and has a parallel port but no USB ports. I also have several similarly old notebooks from friends that are potentially salvageable and my own not-yet-resaved archive of hard drives and of floppy backups.

Things I’m hanging on to for fun projects like these include:

  • USB cables: These pile up, but it’s good to have a bunch, especially with USB now the way that many mobile devices charge. Also, many printers that require USB cables don’t include them, and store prices are often whacky-high, so I hang onto the extras that accumulate. My pile currently includes “Type B” ones for connecting to printers, and cables or adapters for the smaller-size (mini and micro).
  • VGA video cable(s): Two or three, since sometimes I get/find monitors that don’t have any; having spares makes it easier to find new homes for these displays.
  • Computer power cables: Ditto — having several spares makes sense. Also some of the two and three-connector ones used by many stereo components.
  • Ethernet cables: A bunch, from short to medium long.
  • Parallel cable: One of these is plenty.
  • USB floppy disk drive: One should be enough, but it’s nice to have a spare to lend out. And some floppy disks.
  • USB CD/DVD drive: I occasionally need it myself, for use with my new 3-pound Lenovo ThinkPad, which doesn’t have a built-in optical drive., Similarly, I’ve lent this out to a friend who needed to install software on a netbook.
  • Adapters: I’ve got a box of video, USB, PS/2, serial, and other cable/port adapters that I’ve built up over the years, from buying sprees at computer stores, and from yard sales. My computer stash includes “gender-menders” (male-to-male, female-to-female), type adapters (e.g., USB-to-PS/2), pin adapters (e.g., VGA 9-to-15). I almost never need these adapters — but when I do, it was worth every penny to have the right one at hand (or several from which I assemble the right combination).
  • OS disks: I’ve got a shoebox full — licensed retail copies often turn up at yard sales for a few bucks — ranging from Windows XP back through DOS, along with a Linux or two. Again, rarely used, but invaluable when needed.

I also have a mouse, keyboard, and small LCD, along with video and power cables, for my “testbench” to check out notebooks and desktops.

And I’ve got a few old hard drives, some “sanitized,” some not (yet), for possible re-use.

Things I don’t hang onto, since I’ve got my limits as a tech geek, include hard drive ribbon cables or power supplies. I enjoy disassembling computers, but I’m not interested in building or rebuilding them. I’ve also recently discarded printer and SCSI cables, among other things.

The same logic applies to stereo gear. I’ve got a modest handful of RCA cables, sundry plug adapters, radio antennas, and power cords, plus a small tin of stereo fuses, and a meter to check speaker impedance.

In general, if anything needs anything more complicated than an adapter, cable and fuse, it goes off to tech recycling, or to somebody else who wants to play with it.

I try to periodically — every year or three — go through my stash, and cull the triplicates and the so-obsolete-I-no-longer-care stuff.

But even the old stuff — and the knowledge of how to use it — comes in handy still, for helping people with computers that are way old, but not ready (or their owners aren’t ready) to be disposed of.

 

Mozy Stash Free

 

Mozy Streamlines Disaster Recovery with Update to Web Access

Yesterday, we shared the news about a big overhaul to the Mozy web interface for accessing your files. In that blog entry, we mainly talked about how Mozy Web Access adds more features to Mozy Stash. Today we want to share what new features this update brings for anyone who uses Mozy to protect their personal and professional files–even if you don’t have Stash.

Mozy has two continuing goals for Web Access. One is to provide you with a simple, straightforward way to access the files you need from any device that has a standards-compliant web browser. The other is to ensure that you can recover from a data loss catastrophe swiftly and confidently. Today we examine several ways that this update addresses the latter of those two goals.

Emergency Restore
Something you’ll notice right away about the new interface is that Mozy has adapted it to emphasize what our customers tell us is their most frequent reason for logging onto the Mozy web site: accessing a file they need while on the go. But in shifting focus toward access, we did not want to impede your ability to react to a crisis (whether loss, theft, disk failure or an errant can of Red Bull). Let’s face it: when in such a situation, we’re typically not in our calmest states of mind. We need a fast path to recovery.

When you find yourself scrambling to get your data back, log onto the Mozy website and look for Emergency Restore at the top right of the web access screen. Use it to launch the new Restore Wizard, and you’re on your way.

Mozy Emergency Restore

 

 

Restore Wizard
When you need to restore all your data files after a computer loss, the new Restore Wizard will guide you through seven steps to recovery. After launching the wizard from the Emergency Restore icon, you define a few quick details about what you want to restore, and then select whether you want to use the Restore Manager to stream the files as a download or have Mozy expedite them to you by postal service.

Restore Manager
The Mozy Restore Manager simplifies the task of downloading files from Mozy. It runs on your computer, and ensures that interruptions—such as a network outage or computer restart—don’t force you to start downloading your restore all over again.

As mentioned above, you can use it from the Restore Wizard to facilitate a complete system restore. But you can also use Restore Manager even for ad hoc file retrieval. For example, say you want to download a whole folder of photos from Web Access. Instead of direct downloading the whole thing as an archive (.zip), you can use the Restore Manager by clicking More Download Options in the Actions panel after selecting the folder. As with a system restore, this gives you a way to recover from an interruption, such as a network outage

More Mozy Download Options

Lastly, Restore Manager is particularly handy if you use a personal key to custom-encrypt your backups, because Restore Manager will decrypt your files as it downloads them. That’s something that a direct download from Web Access cannot do.

Summary
Overall, the latest updates to Web Access give you multiple ways to restore your data. You can direct-download any file by selecting and choosing download. You can also direct-download an archive file of multiple files or folders. Use the Restore Manager to download it, which is handy for large sets of files or files from a custom-encrypted backup. And finally, you can use Emergency Restore for a complete system restore.

Until next time, be safe,

–Ted
Mozy Product Management

Mozy Enhances Stash with Major Update to Web Access

Mozy Stash just got a whole lot better. Since the debut of Stash, one of the most frequently requested features from beta users has been for a way to upload files from the web. Now with Mozy Web Access, you can.

Let’s take a fast tour of some new features in Mozy Web Access.

Mozy Web Access

  1. A tab for your Stash, and a Devices tab for your backups. Now you can easily access all of the files you protect with Mozy through a single web interface.
  2. A breadcrumb widget shows you where you are in the folder heirarchy, allowing you to jump back up to any parent folder.
  3. Switch from the default list view to a gallery view, and you can see thumbnails for each photo.
  4. The Actions panel changes dynamically depending on what you have selected. (More on this below.)
  5. You can select multiple files or folders
  6. Summary information about your selection shows in the footer.

As mentioned in the above list, different actions show in the actions panel, and that’s where you will find some great new features only available in your Stash:

  • Upload allows you to upload to the current folder
  • Create new folder lets you add a folder
  • Delete allows you to remove a file from your Stash

To be sure, this is just the first batch of Stash features we have added to Mozy Web Access. We look forward to adding more capabilities, such as renaming files or folders, or allowing you to move them as you need.

In addition to the new features for Stash, many of the new features in Web Access are available for files protected with classic online backup, too. Image thumbnails (as shown above), multi-file download, the actions panel, and many other new features work similarly when browsing files on your backed up device. I’ll cover more about general new features tomorrow in a follow up post.

Be safe, and happy stashing,

–Ted
Mozy Product Management

Inventorying and IDing your tech stuff: quick tips

Inventorying Your Tech StuffLike all material possessions personal or business, tech stuff accumulates. It doesn’t actually multiply (except, perhaps, for the calculators) but it doesn’t take long to end up with a pile of stuff.

None of us want to end up on Hoarders. To keep A&E cameras from showing up in tyour driveway, it’s essential to be organized — which includes IDing and inventorying what you’ve got.

WHY IDENTIFY WITH ORGANIZATION

One reason is simply so you know what goes with what. Increasingly, power and data cables are near-universal — thankfully, nearly all manufacturers have moved to USB. Even Apple has standardized its device-side connector, so you can pack one Apple cable (“i-cable”?) for use with both an iPhone and iPad. But some devices still have proprietary data cables and AC adapters. Many battery chargers for digital cameras, for example, remain unique.

This means it’s easy to end up with a box — or boxes! — of AC adapters, wires, and assorted cords, and not be sure what goes with what.

Not to mention being able to find software CDs that went with devices. Yes, most of this is available online — but not always, or not always as usefully. For example, I’m trying to set up a Dell printer, and the file I downloaded from Dell was Zip files within Zip files, and seems to be “turtles all the way down,” never resulting in actual install files I could run.

Fortunately, I found the CD — amazingly, in the first place I looked. It’s easy to claim that a success for my organizing system, but there were at least three other places it could legitimately have been, not to mention somewhere within a foot or two of where the printer has been resting.

HELP INSURE YOUR GEAR

Another reason to ID and inventory your tech gear is for insurance purposes.

If you’re covering through a computer rider on your home policy, or getting a separate Business Office Policy (aka BOP), part of the policy cost depends on how much coverage you’re looking for.

And that, in turn, means knowing how much the stuff you’re insuring cost. Of course, if you do have a loss — easy to do, when you’re toting mobile devices around — it’s easier to make a claim if you have the item name, serial number, purchase price and date, etc. Tech support is yet another good reason — and one you’re likely to run into — to have this information easily at hand. Typically, the first product information you’re asked for when you contact Tech Support is the product name, serial number, and maybe when you purchased it.

For larger objects like desktop computers, printers, and flat screens, that information is often at the back or bottom, hard to get to without a fair amount of effort. That’s why I recommend copying this to a label or small piece of paper you then stick on front or side of the machine where it’s visible.

MAKE A LIST

Being organized starts at the beginning. Part of the challenge will be that, like travel luggage, over time, the stuff you’re organizing evolves, and so will how you do it.

Create a document or database to record acquisitions. I’m use a simple Excel spreadsheet with an easy-to-search-for name, since I only need to access it every few months. For example, mine is called DERN_INVENTORY_OFFICEGEAR.

The data I record for each item is:

o Item: Vendor/Product Serial/Key Number Purchased from

o Date of purchase

o Cost

o Estimated current value (updated every so often)

o Tech support phone number

o Warranty

o Misc notes

I’ve separated my items into Computers, Cameras, Audio/Video, and Phone/Mobile. . Give your insurance company a copy.

When you get a new techno-toy (or business purchase), once you’re sure you’re keeping it, add it to the list; when major updates happen, send a copy to your insurance company.

Consider printing this out, for when you need it and your computer isn’t working. If nothing else, make sure a copy gets stored in an off-site backup (such as a cloud backup). One of my friends puts his information into an email message and simply leaves it in his inbox.

For insurance purposes, you might also want to take (digital) pictures of your gear — being sure, of course, to save copies off-site or on the cloud.

LABEL AND BOX

Nothing beats a label to help you keep track of what the heck something is — and to help identify it as yours.

If nothing else, once you’re sure you’re keeping something, label its AC adapter. If this is the only tip you act on, you’re already ahead of the game.

If it’s just an AC cord, label that — so you can tell what’s plugged in on your power strip or UPS.

For the main device, put a label with the serial number (again, while it’s easy to get to), date you got it, and maybe also the main tech support phone number. This is particularly important for printers.

For any accessories that you don’t expect to use most of the time, put them in a baggie — and label that baggie, perhaps by putting some of the packaging with the product name in it. And then put that baggie into a labeled box, like “iPhone stuff” or “Digital camera stuff.”

And if you’ve got the storage space for it, consider saving the box and packing for your monitor — because if you do have to send it back to the vendor (which I did, for one of my flat screens), it will be difficult and/or expensive to get alternate packaging.

THINGS I HAVEN’T TRIED — YET

Now that I’ve got an iPhone, which should be able to work as a bar code scanner, I’m considering trying to use that as an inventorying tool.

The challenge is to find a bar code-driven database, either for my iPhone/iPad, or for Windows. It’s worth doing — not just for my tech gear, but also for stuff like my books and CDs and comic books.