So you want to get a new computer.  Maybe you need to get a new computer.  What do you get? Where do you go? How much is it going to cost? These are some great questions.  The answers depend entirely on what your intentions are.

If you are an avid gamer, and you want something to run the latest games, then you expect to spend a descent chunk of change on the latest and greatest machine available.  Otherwise, the latest and greatest is probably just a waste of money.  Maybe you go to Best Buy, or Target, or Walmart and take a gander at the latest offerings.  But there is little selection, and the prices seem too high for what you are really getting.  Maybe you are looking online, but the selection is so large that you are confused with what you really need.

With the exception of my servers, I typically buy computers that are ‘off lease’.  They were leased by a business entity for a year or two and then taken back by the lessor at the end of the term. The lessor wipes the hard drive, installs a clean copy of whatever version of Microsoft Windows was previously on the machine, and then sells it.  They sell it for a small fraction of the cost of purchasing a new machine.  Sure, the machine is a year or two old.  Sure, the operating system may not be the latest. But the price is very enticing.  The hardware has proven it is not a lemon, and it is inspected by a technician to ensure it works properly.

I am writing this post on a Lenovo laptop I purchased last year for about $250.  It has roughly the same specs as my desktop computer.  It zips through websites, has no problem with youtube or netflix, and allows me to do software development, web design, photo and video editing, Autocad, and everything else I need.  I have yet to have a computing need that it hasn’t been able and willing to fulfill.  In short, $250 is more than sufficient for my needs.

The downside, and … possibly the upside, of purchasing an off lease machine is that it only has a bare operating system.  I have to add all the software I use.  I enjoy not having all the extras that I don’t need, but I do have to purchase some software, such as Microsoft Office.  There are plenty of free alternatives to many of the purchased programs, I will discuss those some other time, but sometimes the alternatives just won’t do and I have to shell out for the name brand software.

There are many online retailers who sell ‘off-lease’ machines.  I usually look at buy.com first, they have a very large selection and I can get an idea of prices and specs available.  Then, with the help of Google, I look at the other options.  Lately I have ended up purchasing from buy.com.  I recommend paying attention to the return policy and the customer reviews from whatever company you purchase from.  Occasionally the off lease computers have some issues that were not detected when the technician was reviewing the machine.  If you have to return a problematic machine you are far ahead of the game if you already know what will be expected of you.

Some specs that I look for are the processor type and speed and the amount of memory, both ram and hard drive.  I need a hard drive capable of storing whatever I’ll put on it, and a processor/ram combo capable of handling what I throw at it.  I usually have 10 – 20 tabs open on my browser as well as other programs running at the same time, so I like to have at least 4 gb of ram and at least a dual core processor.  I usually go for the 4+ core processors.  The machine I’m using right now has a dual core Intel I5 processor with hyper-threading. The hyper-threading means each processor core can handle 2 sets of instructions at a time so it acts like a 4 core machine.  It has 8 gb of ram (the reason I chose this machine over another machine with better battery but 4gb of ram), and a 250 gb hard drive.  Since this is a laptop, and most of my storage is on a server, I don’t need to store much. If I were storing a fair amount of videos or photos I would want at least 1 terabyte of storage.  In a desktop I would look for at least a 750gb hard drive for light use and 1.5+ tb for video editing and photo and video storage.  Hard drives are easy to add in a desktop, much easier than in a laptop, and relatively cheap; so it’s not as critical in a desktop that you get what you get the bigger hard drive.

This has been my experience with purchasing computers, your experiences may vary.

A few months ago my wife decided to start selling Lularoe clothing.  Primarily, Lularoe consultants use Facebook to sell their clothes. They create a Facebook group and sell the clothes through the photo albums.  My wife was constantly adding photo albums and deleting them.  This takes quite a bit of time to perform manually through the Facebook website. Using the Facebook API, I was able to create a web app that integrates with Facebook and allows the user to create multiple albums, add the album cover, and upload them to the Facebook group in a matter of minutes, instead of the hours it was taking my wife.  The application, albumsthat.work, is still in the development phase.  It has been submitted to Facebook for review. Once it has been approved by Facebook the app will enter a rigorous testing phase prior to being released to the general public.  Check back here for more information, or visit https://albumsthat.work.

I have had quite a bit of experience with backups; more specifically, the lack thereof.  It can be frustrating when a hard drive goes sour. It always happens at the most inopportune time.  My first experience with hard drive failure was while I was in college.  While my wife was pregnant with our first child we acquired our first digital camera.  I had set up an organization system for the files on a newer hard drive, but failed to take in to consideration the need to back up the pictures and videos.

After about a year of taking hundreds of photos of our precious child each month, one day I came home from class and my computer was groaning.  After opening the case I discovered that it was the extra hard drive where we stored all of the pictures and videos from our camera.  This hard drive had all of our cherished baby photos; her first Christmas, her first birthday, and all of the changes and growth that happens that first year, and now the drive was dying.  I knew I had to act fast to save everything.  I quickly shut the computer down, pulled the drive out, and put the hard drive in the freezer.  I had enough sense to know that the groaning noise was a bad bearing, likely in the drive motor.  If I could get it really cold then the bearings would shrink a bit and I could hopefully save something.  The next day I moved the computer into the kitchen and set it up on the counter next to the fridge. I put the tower on top of the fridge with wires extending into the freezer to the hopefully, very cold, hard drive.  I’m glad my wife was in class and didn’t see the freezer being used as an extension of the computer. It was quite a sight.  Luckily, the drive had just enough life left to copy the photos onto another hard drive.  Soon after drive was used for target practice.

Hard drive failure comes in two types.  Type one, which I have experienced many times, is hardware failure. This occurs when some moving part of the drive stops working.  The motor whines and groans when it is going bad. The spindle makes a click when it goes bad. It is typically very difficult to impossible to get anything off of a drive experiencing hardware failure. The second type of hard drive failure is a software failure; this has been less common in my experience. Typically this is caused by bad sectors on the drive that cause the operating system (Windows, iOS, etc) to be unable to understand the data on the hard drive.  This is fairly easily overcome with some help from some special software, a hard drive duplicator, and someone who knows what they are doing. No matter the type, hard drive failure is very stressful and if possible, it takes time to overcome.

With my first hard drive failure incident I decided I had better back up at least the important things that cannot be replaced.  I investigated the options and decided on an off site backup system. This takes the important files and backs them up to a server located somewhere other than my living room.  There are other options for backups.  Data can be saved on an external drive that is usually stored away from the computer it’s backing up. Or just having a two hard drive system that mirrors each other inside the same computer.  Both of these are viable options depending on the circumstances.  I opted for the offsite system because it was the easiest. I downloaded some software that would backup the folders I chose at regular intervals. It backed up by uploading them to a server system at Amazon. If my house were to catch on fire I would still have the data. If all of my hard drives were to go all at once, I would have the data.  If an EMP went off and fried all the computers and hard drives within a 27 mile radius, I would still have the data. The data I am referring to contains the pictures and videos of our precious child, as well as some sensitive documents which I had encrypted prior to backing up.

There are some questions that one must answer prior to setting up a backup protocol.  What do I need to backup? What am I trying to overcome with the backup? How much data loss am I willing to accept? How much am I willing to spend? What will happen if someone else gains access to my backup?

I had some very specific needs at that time.  I was a poor college student who only wanted to make sure his precious photos and videos never disappeared.  I lost a fair amount of hair on that occasion, which hasn’t grown back. I wanted to make sure I didn’t loose more hair on account of an $80 hard drive.  I went with the off site system because the cost was very low, less than $5 per month. Amazon is probably not going to disappear anytime soon. They use data replication, so there are 10 copies of my data on 10 different machines in different areas of their datacenter. Likely, there are 10 copies spread across multiple data centers.  If one goes up in smoke, they still have 9 copies of my data.  The backup software I chose allowed me to encrypt my data with an encryption system I was familiar with and trusted.  I wrote the decryption code on a piece of paper and stored it in a place I wouldn’t loose it and I’d be able to find it if I ever needed it. If I had lost the code anything encrypted with it would be unrecoverable.  That also means that if someone else were to figure out how to get my data from Amazon it would be useless to them without that code.

On site backups are great, and highly recommended, especially with very sensitive data. A hard drive system that automatically backs up data is recommended and is very easy to recover from.  In most cases this is sufficient. But there are some files that you will want to have, even if the house catches on fire, or is flooded. For those situations an encrypted off site backup is highly recommended.  I keep a few of those files on a usb drive in my desk drawer at work, ones that I want to keep handy, but I still encrypt them.  I believe that encryption keeps me safe from curious fingers and prying eyes.  I also believe that anything I wouldn’t hand out to everyone around town should be encrypted.  The important documents, the file with all of my passwords, spreadsheets with credit card and social security numbers, these files should be encrypted. I would really like to know why Target and Home Depot didn’t think they should encrypt my credit card information.  Pictures and videos can go without encryption, unless, of course, they are distasteful and you are a celebrity, then they should probably be encrypted as well.

If you would like help setting up a backup or just have questions about it, give me a call and I’ll be happy to help.

Rodeo in the Cloud works very well in some situations but has some drawbacks.  The primary issue is the requirement of having an internet connection at your arena in order to use it.  We are in the process of designing and testing a new product, Rodeo in a Box.  This will be a portable solution, providing our Rodeo in the Cloud web based rodeo management experience in a portable, battery powered, box.  The box provides a wifi connection and the backend to run the rodeo. At the present time it functions as an isolated instance of Rodeo in the Cloud.  We are in the process of allowing it to function in conjunction with Rodeo in the Cloud so that entries can be performed by multiple people from home, and uploaded to the Rodeo in a Box before leaving home.  We are very excited about this product. It is still in the testing phase, but should be ready for limited sales before the start of the 2017 rodeo season.  Please check back here for more information.

The Enterprise Utah Rodeo approached me last year about creating software to help them run the rodeo.  We host and maintain their website http://enterpriserodeo.com.  Since they use our cloud based rodeo management software Rodeo In the Cloud we were able to integrate their online signup and results pages with Rodeo in the Cloud.  Online signups are placed directly into the management software with minimal effort by rodeo staff.  The rodeo’s results page is able to display live updated scores.  Rodeo staff, as well as audience members, and the general public, are able to see the event results as the events are happening.  The software and website are continually evolving and providing more functionality to the rodeo and its fans.  This is just one example of being able to provide a custom solution to our clients.