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Backup Solutions – The 6 Levels

In 2012 you would think that we could develop machines reliable enough that they do not fail and we do not have to back up our work. But in reality, that’s not the case. Computers hard drives can crash. People can lose or damage their device beyond repair. Viruses can permiate your machine rendering them useless. You may lose your machine in a fire or a flood. The hard reality is that our data is just not safe enough being just on your hard drive. This is where backup comes in. A lot of people know they should backup, but not many actually do it. And usually when you get that ‘ah ha’ moment and you realize how great an idea it is to backup, your computer is broken and you have lost your whole digital life. I would suggest to use a backup solution BEFORE you lose all of your files. Save the tears and stress of it all. So to help you, I have outlined a few solutions below in order of least reliable to most reliable.



LEVEL 1 – Partition
Cost: Free
Reliability: Medium
Ease of use: Medium

It’s essential that you have another copy of your data. You can partition your hard drive (basically cut it in half and have a copy of your work on the other half in case one half is lost), but that’s not so safe because if your hard drive fails or you lose it, you’ve still lost all your data. It’s hard to transfer data from one partition to another because the drives may not be the easiest to access. On the upside, partitioning is free, provides reasonable safeguards against a virus and requires no extra hardware.


LEVEL 2 – A USB drive or portable hard drive
Cost: ~€0.08 / GB
Reliability: Medium/low
Ease of use: Medium for tradition back up, easy if using Time Machine

A backup on a USB drive or a hard drive that you carry around with your computer is one step better than a patrician, but it’s still not the most reliable solution. What happens if your drop your computer in a puddle? Or your computer bag gets stolen? Both copies of the data are gone. The reliability of a portable external drive is OK, but if your external hard drive also crashes at the same time, then you have lost both copies of your data as hard drives have a limited life cycle. You also have to make sure you keep all of the folder structures the same and make sure you are regularly plugging the drive in and and dragging the files to the drive (unless using Time Machine which is highly advised). The chance of having the most up to date copy of your data when something goes wrong are slim, because in my experience, chances are your last backup was a month or so ago, if you could be bothered plugging it in at all. Also, USB drives have limited capacities and are so small and portable that they can be very easily lost or damaged.


LEVEL 3 – An external hard drive stored at home
Cost:~€0.08 / GB
Reliability: Medium
Ease of use: Medium for tradition back up, easy if using Time Machine

This is a better again, as it’s hard to lose or damage, but the downside is you have to remember to backup your work regularly. Chances are, you will start out with the best of intentions, then get lazy and rarely back up. One good thing to do if you are using any hard drive is to use Time Machine to back up your data. All you have to do is plug in your external hard drive, turn on Time Machine (and leave it on) then your computer will make a disk image of itself automatically, each time you plug it in. So if you created a document on Monday, then accidentally deleted it on Wednesday, you could go ‘back in time’ and restore your computer from Monday’s image.

One consideration is that you have to make sure the drive is big enough to fit the image on it, so it needs to be at least the same size as your computers hard drive, ideally twice the size. So your looking at about a $100 outlay. Another good feature of Time Machine is that it has a pop up that reminds you if you haven’t backed for a while. If you do choose to use an external device, I highly recommend using Time Machine with your Mac.


LEVEL 4 – Create Your Own Server In Your Bedroom
Cost: High
Reliability: Medium/high
Ease of use: Pro level

Basically, you run your own server from your house and access it remotely. This can work but is expensive as you need another computer and is so difficult, that only super savvy computers users could set it up. I have no idea how it works myself, so don’t ask me for help!


LEVEL 5 – Time Capsule
Cost: €0.15 / GB (However this also includes wireless printing and a wireless router. Actual cost per gig should be around the same as an external hard drive.)
Reliability: Medium/high
Easy of use: EASY!

Time Capsule is a hard drive and wireless router made by Apple. It walks you through creating a wireless network in your house and also backs up your computer wirelessly using Time Machine. It does this automatically, so if you are out and about and make changes on your computer, when you get home and connect to the wireless connection, your backup is updated. This is a great backup solution and there are many other cool features of the Time Capsule, like wireless printing and many wireless network settings such as guest log in, etc.

The only downside is if you are out and about, you create or change many important files and then lose your laptop, the changes will not be saved as your computer had not had a chance to make it to your wireless network. The other problem is if your laptop and Time Capsule get destroyed (flood, fire, etc.), all your data is gone.


LEVEL 6 – Cloud Backup
Cost: Backblaze $50/year (unlimited backup space), Carbonite $59/year (unlimited backup space), SugarSync $150/year (100 GB), Mozy $110/year (125 GB), etc.
Reliability: High
Ease of use: Very easy

Over the last few years, the internet has seen the emergence of ‘the cloud’. Basically, a ‘cloud’ is a place where you store or access files online, rather than on your computers hard drive. The advantage to this is that you can access your files anywhere on any device with internet. The other advantage is that the servers that the information is stored on is generally much more reliable than any hard drive you or I could maintain. They are in big storage facilities with a multitude of cooling and maintenance solutions with a whole range of backup to protect the servers. Generally, the servers are backed up onsite as well as off site, saving the data from a local disaster (flood, fire, earthquake, etc.). As a result, the reliability is amazing.

One good way to utilize this technology is to use a cloud backup solution. There are a multitude of options around but personally, I use Backblaze as it’s the cheapest I could find that meets my needs. For Backblaze, all you do is install a small app and it does the rest for you. It send all of your files securely to their servers, fully encrypted and safe. As soon as you make a change on your computer, it updates it. As long as you have an internet connection, anywhere, it keeps all of your work backed up, trouble free, automatically. There is no limit to how much space you can use on their server. Another great feature is if you are away from your computer and need to access files (for example, you need files from your home computer on your work computer), you can log into the website and download any files from the cloud that you need.

As for the price, the way I see it is it’s the same price as a new external hard drive every two year, but without the hassles of remember to plug it in, maintain it, etc. with unlimited space. For me, I think this is easily the simplest, safest, most reliable backup solution available and a great investment in your digital life.

13 iOS Apps For Education

iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPad, iPhone) are becoming increasingly popular in the education setting. Due to their prices, easy accessible for students of all ages and their versatile uses, I see them as a great tool for teaching and learning.

I have been using them for two years now, purely as a tool for learning. I find the utilities such as the still camera, video cameras, the sound recordings, etc. great tools for classroom use. I think when people start to see the apps as a silver bullet, magic pieces of software that are going to replace something they do in their classroom as naive. The apps you want developed are only going to be made if there is demand and if someone can profit from it, just like a website. Like all technology, the iOS devices need to be used as tools for learning, not replacements for teaching.

In saying that, here is a list of the apps I would make sure are on any iOS device I used to help me utilize the technology as a tool for teaching and learning.



USE: Taking notes and saving files


Essential for staying organizing. The great part is that you can also sync the account with any other device you own. So if your using iPads/iPods/iPhones you can easily access notes, PDF’s, videos, photos and anything you have stored in Evernote on all devices. You can read more about it in one of my former posts.



USE: Taking and sharing photos


Not an essential app for education, but one that has so much opportunity in the classroom. Instagram is a simple photo taking app that adds filters to give it a vintage look to your photos. The other part of Instagram is the social network. It has it’s own social network, which is a stream of photos that you see from people you follow. The other great feature is it’s so straight forward to share on other social networks like facebook, Twitter, etc. This app could have many applications. It could be used in an art class to provide opportunity to practice photography skills. Or students could sync their account with their own or a class Twitter account or blog to update parents about the work they are doing in class. A great way to show the learning that is taking place in the classrooms.


WiFi Photo Transfer

USE: Transferring photos from device to computer


A simple app that makes your device into a wireless server so that you can access the photos or videos you have taken wirelessly. No more lost cables. No more forgotten cables. It’s free and makes your workflow that much quicker.



USE: Recording, editing and uploading videos


Not only record, but edit and upload straight to Vimeo from this amazing free app. This bring so many possibilities for the classroom.



USE: Saving pages to be read later offline


Formerly called Read It Later, this is a great app that allows you to flag web pages in a browser and access them later. When the pages are viewed in Pocket, it takes out all adds, images, etc. and just leaves the text. It also downloads the pages so they can be viewed offline. So if you are in a subway or if you in the park and you don’t have WIFI access, you can still read the pages you have flagged. This would be perfect for students that have to read from sites or Wikipedia entries. It helps take away the distraction and they can read the articles anywhere, anytime. In the park on the weekend, on the bus on the way home from school, at lunch time in the playground, etc.



USE: Twitter client


Personally I used HootSuite as my Twitter client, but the official Twitter app is easy to use and manage. In the classroom, with younger classes I’d have one class account and have the students follow people related to the field they are studying. I’d also have them post about things they are learning, questions, etc. Parents could follow the account and see what was happening in the classroom. For older students, they could create their own account and tweet out to the world. The other great thing about this is that you can set up the Twitter account on the device in the System Preferences and be able to use Twitter integrated into all other aspects if iOS5. If you don’t have iOS5, you will have to update first, it’s free and awesome.



USE: Blogging


Posterous is a blogging platform. The app is an easy way to compose and publish posts to your blog. Personally, I use my own hosted version of WordPress and I have my students use Blog.com but Posterous could be used quickly and easily from an iOS device to publish blog post. To see why I think students should be blogging, read this post.



USE: Creating presentations

PRICE: US$9.99

Just like Keynote on a Mac, Keynote for iOS is a quick and easy way to create presentations. With the use of iCloud, these presentations can be accessed on a Mac wirelessly. Another option is to buy a VCA adapter and have the students/teachers present straight from their device.

The results of this app are amazing, here is just one great presentation composed entirely on the iOS Keynote app, from pictures to text to slides.



USE: Recording and sharing audio


Create a SoundCloud account, take a recording of anything (a voice, an instrument, a speech, etc.) and upload it directly to the SoundCloud account. There are so many educational possibilities!



USE: Handwriting practice

PRICE: US$2.99

This is a great way to teach old things in new ways. It would be perfect for kindergarten students up to Grade 1 or 2 and the great thing about it is that it helps students form correct sequencing of the letter development. Students must write their letters in the correct sequence (E.g. top to bottom) or they can’t move on to the next letter. If your a stickler for hand grips, then you could always get a stylus.



USE: Mapping

PRICE: Free (pre installed)

Whatever you would use Google Maps for, you can use this app for. The bonus of this app is that depending how you connect to the internet, you can have access to your current GPS data in real time. A world of education possibilities, from treasure hunts and orienteering to a range of geography lessons.



USE: Finding directions

PRICE: Free (pre installed)

Just like a regular compass but based on GPS not magnetism.



USE: Making calculations

PRICE: Free (pre installed)

Everyone needs a calculator every now and then.

Learning As An Active Process

Learning As An Active Process

Part two of my quote series.

3 Essential Tools I Use To Monitor And Maintain My Computer

Owning a Mac, I find I have to do very little maintenance to my machine. It runs well majority of the time and only slows down when I have had it on for weeks or have 15 applications opened at once. However, I still find it important to monitor my computer to make sure it’s running at an optimal level. These are the tools I use to monitor and maintain my computer.


iStat Pro

iStat Pro is a free widget that is installed into your dashboard. It helps monitor your system so you know what is happening on your computer. The features include:

  • CPU usage – to monitor how much your processor is being used as a percentage.
  • Memory usage – this is great as it can usually help you determine why your computer is running slowly. If the graph is completely blocked out in a single colour, it means you need to reset your computer to free up some memory, or use FreeMemory (see below) to help you out with that one.
  • Disk Capacity – you can see how much space you have used and how much space you have free for any disk you have attached such as your computers hard drive, an external hard drive, a network drive, a USB drive, etc. I try to make sure I stay under 80-85% capacity on any drive I use to help prevent crashes and keep my computer running fast. Whenever a drive gets full, it significantly decreases it’s speed.
  • Temperatures – you can monitor the temperature of any part of your computer. If you have your laptop on a soft surface, it may block the fans at the back of the computer and make the computer very hot. This is not good for the computer so this section allows you to monitor the heat of any part of your computer and act accordingly.
  • Fans – I don’t monitor this section very much, but this can also help you understand why your computer is loud or heating up.
  • Battery – this helps you determine your battery health (how much of the original capacity of your battery that it can now be charged to), cycles (how many times your battery has been charged when it has reached below 50% capacity), charge percentage and remaining time before it’s empty. To keep your battery healthy, make sure you fully charge it, then fully drain till it shuts down and full charge it again at least once a month. I set a pop up reminder in iCal and have it pop up once a month to remind me to do this.
  • Uptime – this is one section I use a lot. I rarely turn my computer off (looking at my uptime now it’s up to 22 days), because I usually just close my laptops lid to put it to sleep. This allows me to start up my computer quickly from it’s sleep and my machine seems to run well doing this. However, when my computer is running slow, chances are it’s because it has been on for too long. To correct this problem I have to restart my machine to free up some memory and make my machine run fast again.
  • Processes – these are the applications that are running and how much CPU power or memory they are consuming. You can see what applications are really stretching your computers performance or see whether all of those applications being open at once really effect your machine.

I find iStat Pro invaluable for monitoring my computers performance. A quick peak at it usually tells me why my computer is not performing at it’s optimal level and I can act accordingly.



FreeMemory is a free Mac OSX app store download. That means it can be accessed from the app store that is on your Mac desktop or Mac laptop. This is not to be confused with the iTunes app store. The OSX app store helps you download a range of software to your computer, even iWorks (Pages, Keynote, Numbers) can be downloaded in the OSX app store so it’s very convenient. However, the apps are generally fairly expensive. FreeMemory is one exception to this rule. It works the same as the memory usage section of iStat Pro but it displays your memory usage in your menu bar all the time. So if your computer is running slow, a quick glance to your menu bar can help determine the problem. The app also helps you clear memory, but that feature takes a long time to complete. To clear the memory fast and more effectively just restart your computer. But for monitoring your memory usage in real time, it works great.




Broom is a great app from the same makers of FreeMemory that allows your find and delete large files on your computer. It only cost 99 cents US and is a cinch to use. It helps you locate files in three sections, Places, Folders and Files. The Places section is handy because it searches your caches, logs, trash and downloads folder and tells you how much space each of these sections are taking up. You’d be surprised how many files end up in the caches and logs sections! To delete them, just select the section you want to delete and click the ‘Remove Selected’ button at the bottom of the app, couldn’t be easier!

In the Files and Folders sections, it makes a list of all of the files and folders on your computer and how big they are, so you can sort them by size order and see which files are really taking up a lot of space.


These are just some of the tools I use regularly to maintain and monitor my machine. Do you also use these tools? Are there any that you use regularly? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.



At the start of the year one of the Grade 12 students took it upon herself to pin up motivational, inspirational or funny quotes in the stairwell to inspire her peers and teachers. I loved reading them and gave the stairwell a great atmosphere. Unfortunately, the student moved overseas, so the school councilor took it upon himself to keep up the tradition of the stairwell quotes. He noticed my interest in the quotes, so asked me if I would like to contribute. This is just one of fives quotes I will share over the new few weeks. If you like it and would like to use it, click the picture and it will take you to Twitter, where you should be able to download the full sized version.

How To Set Up Filters In Gmail

Filters are a great way to speed up your productivity in Gmail. Filters allow you to ‘catch’ specific emails and run special rules for those email. For example, if you constantly receive emails that you don’t need, you ‘catch’ the email by specifying to from address or another indicator of that email and automatically archive it or mark it as spam. Conversely, if you spam filter is continuously filtering emails that are not spam, you can specify the email address it is coming from and have Gmail never mark it as spam.

There are many different combinations, so your limited only by your imagination.

How To Add An Image To A Blog Post

A quick tutorial on how to add an image to a blog post in WordPress/Blog.com/Edublogs/etc.

Experts At Your Fingertips

The last two weeks have been enormous for me. After a world tour, visiting three continents and seven countries on summer vacation, I was dropped back into the world of education with a thud. Not only did I now have to move house, I had to move my office. I also had to adjust to a new and enthusiastic Head Of Department (HOD) that has a lot of great ideas for the future of our school. On top of all of this, I started my Certificate Of Educational Technology And Information Literacy (COETAIL) at Yokohama International School. After having many motivating conversations about the state of technology in education and long terms plans and directions with my new HOD, we were made to read the article “World Without Walls: Learning Well with Others” by Will Richardson which was published in Edutopia.org in our first COETAIL class. I found the article extremely motivating and reassuring because it outlined the exact feeling that I was trying to convey to my new HOD. So many great point of views and ideas come up in this article, but the main thought line I liked the most was that of collaboration and searching out the ‘teachers’ that are most relevant to your interests.

This idea resonated with me because that was what I have been doing for myself recently. For over a year now, I have been really finding an interest in nutrition and have been educating myself on the topic. I read some books, but time and time again, when I would Google questions I that had arose from reading the books, I found more current and relevant information online in blog posts, Twitter feeds and message boards. In the World Without Walls article, Richardson wrote:


“For educators and the schools in which they teach, the challenges of this moment are significant. Our ability to learn whatever we want, whenever we want, from whomever we want is rendering the linear, age-grouped, teacher-guided curriculum less and less relevant.

Experts are at our fingertips, through our keyboards or cell phones, if we know how to find and connect to them. Content and information are everywhere, not just in textbooks.”

And this was exactly what I was doing myself, finding my own content that I had an interest in. 20 years ago, to learn the very specific area of nutrition I had an interest in I would of had to have read text after text along with scientific studies by the bucket load. Now, highly educated experts sift through this information, collate it, curate it and present the findings for the world to see, readily available and free. A great example of this type of curator is Kurt Harris, a M.D. who produces the blog www.archevore.com by finding relevant, scientific studies to his nutritional and lifestyle area of interests and posts about them with his own reflection and adaption to the real world. As Will Richardson said:


“We must find our own teachers, and they must find us.”

This is exactly what has happened for me through the use of blogs and Twitter, where these experts have found their voice and know people are listening to them. Another great example of this is iTunes U. The best explanation of iTunes U is on this short video:

This system makes experts available to anyone in the world with internet access, no matter what their socioeconomic background or geographical location.

I think this should be how students should be learning in our classes. Not necissarily through Kahn Academy style videos of a chalk and talk lesson, but through seeking out the experts and sources we see as most relevant to us. As teachers, we must model to them how we go about making our own connection, how we find the content that interests us and empower them to do the same. Students would quickly realize how little the teacher sitting before them really knows and how much expert information is available to them, right at their fingertips. But to accomplish this we need a dramatic change in the culture of education and the current schooling model. I believe that schools and teachers are not ready for this, not now, but hopefully teachers and institutions can see the impact it can have on their students and learning in general. A world where student at school learn about what interests them, what they want to learn, from a range of experts is one so exciting and empowering it has me dreaming of possibilities everyday. Once again, to quote Will Richardson:


“We as educators need to reconsider our roles in students’ lives, to think of ourselves as connectors first and content experts second.”

My 2011 Back To School Present

I remember writing a post about my new back to school present last year, outline the upgrades that we made as well as the new Macbook’s the school purchased for the kindergarten and junior school.
Well this year when I returned to work, not only did I have a new head of department, I also had a whole new set of computers in the main lab I teach middle school and my yearbook class! Look at the size of the screen, these are going to be incredible for the yearbook staff! I’m sure my staff from last year will be green with envy!

Look Who Is On The Brainpop Blog!

Earlier in the year I was honored to be contract by Brainpop about my teaching and the use of their resources. They asked me to write a guest blog post, outlining how I use Brainpop in the classroom. This was an example I gave with Grade 2 students on the Food Pyramid. See the full blog post here.