April Tech Challenge: Have a Disaster Recovery Plan

World Backup Day was on March 31, 2021. While doing a single backup of your devices is a great idea, it’s not much use to only do it once a year. So, this seems the perfect time to take on our Disaster Recovery Plan Challenge.

Why You Need a Disaster Recovery Plan

Off the top of your head, do you know what meetings you have scheduled for today? Do you know your best friend’s phone number by heart? Do you have physical copies of all the photos you took at your daughter’s wedding?

Family photos. Calendars. Contacts. Work in progress. Invoices. Customer orders….so much of our business and personal lives exist in a digital world. But if your laptop or phone died today, how much of your life would come to a stand still? How much information that you take for granted as being available at your fingertips, would disappear?

depressed businessman with closed eyes sitting at workplace with head on laptop near crumpled paper

Thinking about the loss of all that information can make your head spin, but don’t panic! Now that you understand how important it is to have a disaster recovery plan, let’s figure out how to do it…

Personal Disaster Recovery Plan Options

There are a few options to consider for how you can regularly backup your data and be able to retrieve it easily from various locations and devices.

External Drive:

External Hard disk drive connected to laptop

An external drive is a device that you plug into your computer. The device shows up as a drive on your desktop and then you manually drag all the files you want backed up, to the drive. Voila! You now have a copy of all your files.

An external drive is a simple and relatively cost-effective option as long as you remember to do it regularly and provided that the disaster that destroys your computer doesn’t also destroy the hard drive sitting right next to it (ie if your computer is destroyed in a house fire, chances are your external hard drive will be too). The other drawback to an external drive is that you’re unlikely the take it with you to work or on vacations, so access to your data may be limited if your device fails when you’re not physically in the same location as your external drive.

Woman plugging a USB drive into her laptop, technology and data storage concept

A thumb drive, or USB flash drive, is a smaller, and hence more portable, external storage option. However, because of its size, it can be more easily lost or damaged.

Cloud Storage:

Cloud storage is best for a disaster recovery plan

Cloud Storage offers the benefit of storing all of your data off-site. It also provides as much storage space as you need so, as your data grows, you don’t need to worry about running out of room or purchasing a larger external drive. Google Drive and Dropbox are both well-know, reliable Cloud Storage services. Both services ensure your files are available from any device you sign in with, and they also make it easy to share files with others.

Automatic Cloud Backups:

The best option is to choose a backup method which uses Cloud Storage and performs regular backs up for you. Making use of your devices’ built-in backup software and/or subscribing to a backup service such as Backblaze or Carbonite, ensures that all of your important documents, photos, contacts, music, and more are regularly backed-up and available when you need them.

This article provides instructions for backing up your PC to the cloud by making use of Dropbox, Google, OneDrive, or a full backup service such a Backblaze.

If you have an iOS device (iPhone, ipad, or iPod) you can follow these instructions to make sure they’re backed up and set up to backup regularly.

If you have a Mac computer, you can backup your computer to the built-in Time Machine or backup to the Cloud by following these instructions.

Business Disaster Recovery Plan Options

Your business depends on keeping track of a lot of moving parts. A loss of information can mean a loss of revenue and trust from your customers. Fortunately, our Business Division, NEWT, posted a blog about this very thing last month, so definitely use that as a starting point to understand how NEWT’s Hybrid Business Phone System makes use of LTE wireless connectivity for backup disaster recovery.

small business owner on phone with NEWT Hybrid Cloud Edition phone system

Beyond that, many of the resources listed for the Personal disaster recovery plan can be used for business as well. Both Backblaze and Carbonite provide Personal and Business Cloud storage and backup options at comparable price points; it really just depends on what you’re looking for and which options fit your business needs best. And again, Dropbox and Google Drive are both excellent for file sharing and storage, allowing multiple people to contribute to documents and files, as well as access documents from any device, which can help keep your business running.

Take on April’s challenge and remove the stress of losing important information and valuable memories. Good luck and see you in May for our next tech challenge!

 

March Tech Challenge: Clear Your Cache

Our series of Tech Challenges are designed to help you get the most out of your devices. March’s Challenge is: Clear Your Cache; a phrase many of us have heard but maybe don’t fully understand why we do it, or how to do it.

What is a Cache?

The word “cache” refers to a collection of similar items that are stored and hidden away. You might have a cache of jewellery, a cache of weapons, or a cache of cash. Your computer stores data in a variety of places, and one of them is the cache. It’s an expensive piece of memory that allows for quick retrieval and faster processing.

your cache is like a table near your front door that holds your keys and walletThink of the cache in your computer like a table near your front door, holding your keys, wallet and other items you frequently need to grab in a hurry. The more cluttered the table becomes, the harder it is to find what you need, and the slower you are at getting out the door. Over time, certain items become obsolete – like the membership card to the gym you quit which you keep grabbing instead of the new card to the better gym you joined.

What Happens When the Cache Fills Up?

When you ask your computer to perform an operation or deliver information, it starts by checking the cache to try to quickly access what you want. This works well until the cache fills up or the information in it becomes obsolete. That’s when your computer starts to slow down.

Imagine that there’s a website with tons of race car images that you visit frequently. You want to show the site to your friend and you both access it from your laptops in your respective homes. Their laptop instantly pops up with the site, while yours is lagging. When it finally loads, you see empty image boxes with question marks in the centre. Your friend sees motorcycles. You blame your internet connection; your friend wonders where the cars are that you’ve been raving about. What’s going on?

white question mark in a blue box denoting missing image

This is an example of how your cache both helps and hinders. Websites are data-rich, with lots of images, fonts, and links. Your computer has to work hard to bring those items from the website’s server to your computer screen. So, the first time you visit a site, your computer does the heavy lifting and then stores data-rich items, like the images, in its cache. The next time you visit the site, it loads faster as your computer pops in the images from its cache.

But one day, the owners of the site change the images from cars to motorcycles. Now there’s a disconnect between what is actually on the site, and what your computer is trying to pull out of the cache to show you. And all those obsolete car images, not to mention images from sites you visited once three years ago and never visited again, are taking up valuable space and slowing things down.

This is why we clear the cache from time to time: to remove obsolete items and free up space for faster processing. The next time you visit the site, your computer will consult the cache to see if it has the information it needs. Your cache will have no memory of having visited this site before and your computer will take a few extra seconds accessing the website’s server to download and store all those new images. The next time you visit, you’ll have motorcycles on demand.

How to Clear the Cache

How you clear your cache depends on which web browser you’re using: Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Edge, Opera, etc. If you want to take our March Challenge to its extreme, clear the cache on all your web browsers on all your devices including laptops, tablets, and smartphones. This article provides instructions for clearing the cache on all major web browsers.

IMPORTANT: When you clear your cache, you will have to sign into certain applications that you may normally be logged into automatically, such as your Google Drive. So before you clear your cache, make sure you’ve done our January challenge and set up a password manager so you can retrieve all your passwords!

Want to Dive Deeper into March’s Tech Challenge?

Interested in learning more about your computer’s cache and terms like “cache hit”, “cache miss”, and “cache mapping”? Check out these articles for a deeper dive:

A Guide to Cache Memory

How Caching Works

Why Do I Need to Clear My Cache?

Good luck with March’s Challenge and we’ll see you in April!

February Tech Challenge: Reset Your Passwords

Did you complete January’s tech challenge and find yourself a password manager?

If you did, then this month’s tech challenge will be a snap. Anytime you login to an account, your powerful password manager will suggest passwords that need to be updated. February tech challenge complete!

If you haven’t yet found a password manager, then we have to ask: What are you waiting for? 

Passwords need to be updated periodically, especially any that have been involved in a data breach, are repeated across different accounts, or are too weak. A password manager will alert you to any passwords that fit those criteria. If you don’t have a password manager, then you’ll have to manually update each of your passwords across your different devices and browsers.

For example, if you have an iPhone, go to Settings, Passwords, Security Recommendations. Make sure “Detect Compromised Passwords” is switched on so you can see a list of passwords which need to be updated. 

Google Chrome and Safari both have password safety checks, although as this article explains, storing passwords in your browser isn’t the safest idea as anyone who has access to your device can access your passwords.

How to Generate Strong Passwords

Coming up with good passwords is tricky. This excellent article is a fun read (with great graphics), and does a superb job of explaining why password length matters and how to generate strong passwords. As the article points out, there’s a misconception that a strong password is one that is difficult to remember. But just because you can’t remember it, doesn’t mean it’s hard to guess. Fortunately a good password manager will suggest strong passwords for you.

At the VERY least, please update your highest priority account passwords, like your banking and investment apps and email accounts. Oh and one more thing… do yourself a favour and get a password manager already!

January Tech Challenge: Consider a Password Manager

“Spend less time on screens” is unlikely to have landed on anyone’s New Year’s resolutions list this year. The global pandemic has pushed technology to the forefront of our lives, from educating our kids, to helping us work from home, to keeping in touch with loved ones. It has also revealed how knowledgeable (or not) we are about these devices we rely on so heavily. With that in mind, Worldline is launching a series of Technology Challenge posts: challenges that are designed to inform and help you get the most out of your devices. Our January Challenge is to get a password manager…or at least consider getting one.


What is a Password Manager?

Mobile phone secure access. Man holding a smartphone with Login, password on the screen, wooden backgroundDo you have Netflix? Three or four social media accounts? A membership to an online workout program? Do you do online banking? Have customer accounts to various on-line stores? 

The average user has around 100 passwords. You’d need a memory of Guinness World Record proportions to be able to remember 100 passwords; especially passwords that fit the requirement of being long, complex, unique, and unpredictable.

It somewhat defeats the purpose to update a sheet of paper or a document on your computer with a list of usernames and passwords. A password manager suggests high-quality passwords and stores them for you. Each time one of your passwords is required, you simply type your master password into your password manager. The password manager handles the rest for you, inputting both username and password.

Don’t I Already Have that on my Device?

You head to your bank’s website and your computer kindly offers to fill in your password. You complete your banking and move on with your day. How does a password manager make this experience any different?

In that example, it is your computer’s browser making the password suggestion. Web browsers all contain their own password managers, however, the passwords are not encrypted. Anyone with access to your computer can access the password files. A password manager offers more security by encrypting your passwords, plus it allows you to access those passwords across web browsers.

Password managers also provide protection against possible phishing attacks as they use website URLs to access passwords. If you click on a link and think you’re being taken to (for example) your bank’s website, but your password manager doesn’t suggest a password to log you in, this could indicate that it is a site disguised as your bank.

Deeper Dive into the Challenge

There are factors to take into account before you get a password manager. January’s Challenge is to learn more about password managers and make an informed decision about whether or not you need one, and which one to get. The following two articles will help you with this challenge:

This article by Stuart Schechter provides a balanced look at password managers and makes the argument that whether or not you need one is largely determined by how you use technology and what sorts of risks you are most likely to be exposed to. This is a recommended read for anyone wanting to know if password managers are a good option for them, and it provides instructions for testing the waters before you fully dive in.

This informative article by Scott Gilbertson starts with the assumption that you should have a password manager and gives a comprehensive breakdown of the best ones out there. It also makes valid counter-arguments to some of the points in the previous article.

Good luck with January’s challenge and we’ll see you in February for the next one!

5 Ways Technology can Connect us this Holiday Season

With the snow falling outside and holiday songs playing in the malls (I’m assuming they’ve started playing, I haven’t actually been to a mall for a while), our thoughts turn to the time of year when we gather together to eat, drink, and be merry. While hopes are on the rise for coronavirus vaccine, we still have to face the reality that our holidays may not look exactly like a homecoming in a Norman Rockwell painting.

Normal Rockwell homecoming painting

The Homecoming Norman Rockwell December 25, 1948

COVID cases in Canada are once again on an upward trend, so travelling long distances and enjoying extended family get-togethers is off the table. Which means we need to find virtual ways to enjoy each other’s company.

Now I don’t know about you, but the weekly FaceTime call to parents and siblings has become a bit repetitive. With none of us going anywhere or doing anything, the most exciting thing we can find to talk about is which episode of The Queen’s Gambit we re-watched last night, and who is winning in the pool for “most number of days worked in PJs in a row”. With everyday feeling like a Wednesday, the hope for the holidays is that we can shake things up a bit. For anyone feeling the same way, following is a list of ideas for how to use your technology to spend time with family and friends this season, including online games, how to watch movies together, a virtual gift exchange, and even some suggestions for this year’s office party.

Start with a Plan

Begin by picking a time when you can all get “together” and decide how you will all see each other. Will you use FaceTime, a Zoom call, Houseparty? What platform is everyone comfortable with? Consider doing a test run to make sure everyone knows how to use the chosen platform and decide where to set up your devices so you can all see each other. 

Online & Mobile Games

man and woman playing games on smart phones

Turns out you can be physically distanced and still play the old classics like Uno and Scrabble. This link will help you host virtual game nights over the holidays.

Game Pigeon, available through the App Store on iPhones and iPads, allows you to play basketball, pool, chess, paintball, word games, and more through iMessage. It’s a fun way to feel connected and pass time while you’re waiting for your online shopping cart to update.

For Android users, there are alternatives to Game Pigeon. And in the event that you have an iPhone and your sister has an Android, there are still lots of cross-platform games you can play together.

Not Into Gaming?

Are you used to watching Home Alone together as a family and finding the movie title hits a little too close to home this year? This article provides links and descriptions of seven different ways that you can sync movies while you chat about these strange Home Alone fan theories at the same time.

Man and woman with popcorn watching movie on laptop

Need Something New to Talk About?

In case you do just want to talk but have run out of topics, check out this extensive list of conversation starters.

Creative Gift Giving

Gift giving can be fraught with tension at the best of times. If you’re not getting together to exchange gifts this year, check out this link for creative ways to exchange gifts virtually, as well as a few good gift ideas too.

two people exchanging gift with fireplace and Christmas tree in background

What About the Annual Holiday Office Party?

If your office is dealing with the disappointment of missing out on the yearly holiday karaoke, consider pulling together a virtual office party instead. While it may seem unconventional, there are a lot of benefits to the virtual party: no storms or bad weather threatening to postpone or cancel the event, no one has to drive long distances or cover cab costs, no long buffet lines or special diets to contend with, and no navigating freshly fallen snow and ice in three-inch heels. It also requires a lot less planning and organization.

holiday decorations surround a laptop screen with man and woman on screen wearing Santa hats and toasting with champagne

Set the Venue

First, pick the date, time, and “venue” (Zoom, Teams, or whatever other platform your office is comfortable using) and send out email invitations inviting everyone to the online party.

Pick a Theme

Decide if you want a theme: prizes can be awarded to participants who best embody the theme with outfits, decorations, virtual backgrounds, or dressed up pets.

Select a DJ

Pick a DJ and have them select a Spotify playlist or create one of their own. (Pro tip: Ask everyone in the company to notify the DJ of their favourite holiday song. This helps everyone feel more involved.)

Eat Together

Make sure everyone gets to eat together by sending Uber Eats gift certificates to everyone in the company a day or two ahead of the event. This way you can all order food to arrive at a specific time and enjoy together (no more cold buffet leftovers after 95% of the attendees have taken the best items!). 

Distribute Prizes

Have door prizes in the form of gift cards that can be mailed out, or physical items which can be ordered online and shipped to the winners’ homes. 

Use Technology to its Fullest Advantage this Holiday Season

Let’s face it, 2020 is going to live on in our collective memory as being a challenging year, to put it mildly. Not being able to be with friends and family IRL is going to make it harder for many of us, so we might as well use technology to its full advantage and find creative ways to spend time together this holiday season. Because if it’s going to be holiday none of us ever forget, we might as well make it a holiday to remember!