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Disaster Planning: Passwords

disasterplanHow many times have I written about making sure you have a good backup plan in place? I’m too lazy to look, but it’s a lot. I’ll summarize on the off chance that you don’t remember the plan:

Imagine that at this exact moment, your house explodes in a giant fireball. Nobody is injured but all of your computers are obliterated. Did you lose files? If the answer is yes then you’ve failed. Luckily, the remedy is very easy: sign up for an online backup service and run it on all your computers. I like crashplan.com but there are lots of other options. If you’re running that, no matter what happens to your physical machines, you can still get your files.

I saw two data loss situations happen in December and it reminded me of another thing to think about. Dad, I’ll use you as an example since it has a happy ending.

Dad has a good backup strategy in place. It’s not cloud backup because they’re in a limited bandwidth situation, but he does a good job with a physical offsite backup solution. While I was home at Christmas, his main hard drive died. The first thought is “Whew, at least I don’t have to worry about data loss.” But then when he went to restore from his backup drive, he realized that he didn’t (right away) remember his BitLocker password. The whole drive was encrypted so it was only useful if he had that master password. Thankfully he was able to get it and everything went smoothly from there.

But this is a good opportunity for us evaluate our own backup strategies. If you lose all your computers, can you still access/remember all your passwords? In our house we use lastpass.com, but there are other options. I’ve written about LastPass before. It’s a free tool that securely stores all of your passwords online and then you have one (very strong, very long) password that you use to access those passwords. I won’t go into details here, but it’s impossible to hack your account unless someone is able to guess your password. Tyla and I both know that master password so even if our house blows up and I’m in it, she’ll still be able to get to every password that we have.

Disaster planning can seem like a daunting task but if you just use a couple services (crashplan.com and lastpass.com), you’ll be covered in a huge range of situations.

Flash Fill

If you spend much time in Excel, you have probably found yourself doing some repetitive tasks to clean up a column of data. Or maybe instead of doing it manually, you might craft some formulas to do it for you. If you’re just doing a one-off cleanup, make sure you consider the Flash Fill feature in Excel. I recently used this in a demo to my team at work and many people in the room were surprised by it so I figured there were probably a few of you reading this who could benefit from it as well.

The basic idea is that you have one or more input columns and an output column. You provide an example or two of what the output should be and then you click the Flash Fill button. A magical wizard in your computer figures out the pattern and repeats it for the rest of the column. It really does feel like magic the first couple times you use it. Sometimes the algorithm gets it wrong for a few cells so you can just make a correction and it will update it’s algorithm and redo any cells that need it.

This video has a bunch of great examples:

If that’s not enough for you, check out prose-playground.cloudapp.net. The tech behind Flash Fill is open sourced out of Microsoft Research and this is one of the sample sites they have created. If you want to use the SDK, you can get it from GitHub.

Long Timelapse Tips

GoPro-HD-Hero-2During our Indiana trip, I made a six-day timelapse. That was by far the longest one I’ve ever attempted. How did it work? Here are some tips:

  • The GoPro is a great device for this. You can set it to snap a photo every 2, 5 or 10 seconds. Generally I do 2 seconds but since this one was so long I did 5 seconds since I knew I would speed it up a lot anyway.
  • Set the GoPro to the lowest resolution possible. On my camera that is 5 megapixels. Even that is a waste since you’re going to end up resizing down to 1080p anyway. The lower resolution will help you save room on the memory card and also saves battery life.
  • Don’t skimp on the memory card. 32 and 64GB cards are super cheap. Just get a big one and remove this potential problem from your setup.
  • Get a portable USB battery pack. I use this one, but there are lots of options. Get one that takes AA batteries. When you run out of battery, you just slap new batteries in there and you’re instantly ready to go instead of waiting for a recharge. I use and recommend Eneloop AA’s and the Lacrosse BC-700 charger. By using the battery pack to keep the internal GoPro battery charged up, I’m able to confidently let the camera run for 4 hours and it will probably go a lot longer.¬†I¬†changed out the batteries at lunch and at night. That way I didn’t have to worry about them dying on me.

When I was done I had over 30,000 photos. How do you process all of those into a movie? There are LOTS of options, but here’s how I do it (for free):

  • Install IrfanView. It has a lot of features, but I use it to batch resize and crop all of the photos down to 1920×1080. I also rename the photos to something like image#####.jpg so that there is a sequential number for every image.
  • Install ffmpeg. Decipher the command line parameters to build up the video that you want. Here’s the line that I use:”c:\program files\ffmpeg\bin\ffmpeg” -i image%05d.JPG -r 30 -s hd1080 -vcodec libx264 -y out.mp4
  • Techincally you could be done at this point, but I usually take that MP4 into Adobe Premiere Elements and crop it up, speed it up, slow it down, etc.

Windows 10 Photo Viewer

WindowsPhotoViewerI’m not a fan of the new photo viewer in Windows 10. Specifically I have troubles rapidly flipping through a bunch of files in a folder and I’ve seen some stuff online showing it’s poor rendering capabilities. The old Windows photo viewer was simple and perfect. Why change?

The good news is that you can get it back, but it requires a few registry edits. I’m not going to explain how that works. Ask a geek in your life to help you out if you don’t know. It’s not generally something you should ever do. That being said, here are your instructions: http://www.tenforums.com/software-apps/8550-unable-replace-photos-app-photo-viewer-default-10240-a-2.html?s=30e1f367ee6f758b05431dc82f25b765

Once that’s done, right click on a JPG and choose Open With. Select the old Windows Photo Viewer and check the box to always open with that app.