Just read this post on Medium about backing up your data and I thought the setup was very similar to mine, so I felt like writing one to talk about my own.
My setup consists of:
An HP Proliant Microserver N36L which is a fantastic form factor for this purpose. Over time, I did add a graphics card to it so that I can get HDMI out to connect it to an external monitor for those times when I need to upgrade something that I cannot do over remote desktop, like when I moved from Windows Home Server 2011 to Windows 8 and then to Windows 8.1
The server is also great because in that compact form factor, it still allows for 4 hard drives. I had bought two 1TB hard drives and had let Windows Home Server run them in mirror mode. After I moved to Windows 8, I manually implemented that feature via File History. Not technically the same, but works for me in terms of keeping a copy of my data on a second hard drive in case it fails. Windows 8 also provides me the capability to restore to factory settings or to restore to a pre-determined point, in case I need to.
Since I have enough space on my hard drives, I haven’t deployed my other USB drives. Also, since this setup is in our closet, I also don’t want my wife to one day throw it all out of there It would be nice to use Storage Spaces and make use of all my USB drives as a single shared pool of storage. After all, the server does provide a ton of USB ports on front and back.
I do not need VNC because I use the excellent Remote Desktop which now is available on iOS (and Mac and Android too but at this time I don’t have those devices).
Instead of Dropbox, I use SkyDrive for all types of file sync from and to multiple devices. Like Remote Desktop, the SkyDrive app exists on all the devices I use, and works quite well for me. In addition, on my home network, I have set up a HomeGroup and in Windows, I have set up all Libraries to point to the server’s respective locations (Documents, Photos, Music, Videos, etc.) and made that the default save location. That way, the need to sync is reduced when I am on the home network. Pictures from phones are backed up to SkyDrive from my iPhone as well as my Lumia automatically and show up on the server because of the SkyDrive app.
Finally, the best part: Crashplan automatic cloud backup running on the server, which is set to never sleep. In this way, I have multiple versions of all the files on the server, always backing up automatically to the cloud. I have been able to restore my backed up files on different PCs as and when I have needed to. It does not provide bare metal restore but I don’t need it because of the excellent Reset/Refresh features introduced in Windows 8. In fact, if I wanted to, I could even use Crashplan to do USB backups (it uses multiple “destinations” so cloud is the only destination I am using currently but there is no extra cost to add local USB as a destination).
One issue I have noticed and it comes as a result of using the server not just as a backup machine but also as a media server, is that videos take a long time to stream to tablets or TV. I suspect it is because the processor is quite old and slow and it is the server that is doing the CPU-intensive stuff so it ends up choking a bit. I also suspect the hard drives are a bottleneck as well in such cases. I don’t think I want to invest much into this setup at this point but I would love to see a modern version of this form factor. I haven’t found it yet. Most of the small form factor cases today skip the hard drive expansion slots and as a result make me afraid of losing the low-cost, big-sized storage capacity.
But that’s a separate story. I am just happy I have been able to get to a point where I don’t have to worry about losing my digital memories as well as important papers and hard work from my past several years. Huge thanks to Crashplan for making this happen via their inexpensive and unlimited backup service.
In light of the recent rumors about Amazon potentially increasing Amazon Prime fees from $80/yr to maybe up to $120/yr, I went into my order history at amazon.com. My first instinct when I heard the rumor was to unsubscribe (or more correctly, not renew) but upon further review, it looks like I should be fine even with the $40 increase, based on my consumption of amazon “stuff”: orders placed there, amazon video, amazon kindle “free” ebook every month.
But since I was there, I thought I’d do something with my order history, so here it is:
Some points to note:
- The order counts in 2012 and 2013 are “off” because we moved to India in late-2012 and moved back late-2013.
- Looks like I went crazy with amazonmp3 when it first launched
- As you can see, if we continue at around 40 orders a year, a $40/yr increase means adding $1 to shipping costs and that is not even including the benefits we get via video and books. Maybe those bean counters at amazon did their homework
I recently purchased a Dell Venue 8 Pro, an 8″ Windows 8.1 tablet running on Intel Atom chip. I bought the 64GB version because I knew my app count (and size) would be high so it would be better to be n the safer side when it comes to storage. Besides, Amazon had a great deal on it, where I got it for $329 instead of the regular price of $399.
I kept the box because I was not sure if I needed another tablet (I have two iPads), or another Windows 8.1 touch device (I have a 27″ Lenovo A720 all in one). Surprisingly, I am loving the device and won’t be returning it. The following are just some of the reasons this is a great device *for me*:
- Form factor: This thing is thin and light! I am talking in absolute terms, not comparing it to say, an iPad mini or a Nexus or a Kindle Fire. I can absolutely hold it in one hand for a long period of time. I was not able to do it with my iPad nor my Surface RT, despite both being relatively light.
- Screen size and clarity: I feel 8″ screen is great for all my consumption activities and feel it is way better than my phone for quick Office/Excel work. I don’t care about the actual resolution, but what I see is pretty darn clear. There was an initial auto-dimming issue which was fixed by Dell via a firmware update.
- Windows ecosystem: One may ask why I didn’t go for an iPad mini in the first place. The issue is that my home setup is based on Windows. I have a Windows PC (used to run Windows Home Server 2011, now runs Windows 8.1) in the closet with a large hard drive that has all our music, video, photos, documents, etc. This PC is also a part of a HomeGroup which enables it to share all that content easily with other devices in the HomeGroup. With an iPad, I would have to move the files to the cloud, or find some apps which can somehow read data off the network, or maybe trick iTunes into reading all those files as part of its Library. None of those seemed to be as elegant as simply adding a device to the HomeGroup. With my Dell, I have zero issues browsing our entire photo library or even more fun, watching some random old home videos of our kids.
- User profiles: I didn’t do this until a few days ago, but I decided to add my kids accounts to the device because I realized my “games” area on the Start Screen was exploding in size and I wasn’t using any of them. I created two child accounts and added all the apps/games that they would care about on their Start Screen. They love logging in with their own Picture Password and their own game progress, achievements, etc. This is simply not possible, but highly desirable on an iPad.
- Win32 fallback: I have not had to jump into the “old” Windows on this device much. Recently though, I wanted to play a DVD (ripped as an ISO, stored on my home “server”) but I couldn’t. Tried a few apps that promised that functionality but they couldn’t do it. Ultimately, I gave in and installed the ever reliable VLC player. I know they are working to bring it in a Windows Store app, but until then, the only option is to use their Win32 application. It worked flawlessly (no surprise) and I was able to stream the video on my device in seconds! Really handy to have that fallback, although the counter point could be the poor ecosystem that does not fill the gap. I believe the issue is DVD playback involves royalties which is perhaps one of the motivations Microsoft had in removing that feature from core Windows 8, and making it part of a “pro pack” on top of Windows 8 Pro which then includes Windows Media Center as well.
- Office: Sure, this is not a touch-friendly version, and sure, it is dorky to use Excel on a small device but for quick updates like one or two entries on a common budget file my wife and I share, it is great to have a full version of Office connected to SkyDrive.
It’s been about a month since we returned back. Over the course of the past 3 weeks or so, we have met several friends and I have met some ex-colleagues, in person and on phone/IM/FB chat.
The conversation typically goes like this: “Oh, you are back? Wow, welcome back. What happened? What didn’t work?”
Given that we learned a lot, my instant reaction is to go over the details on how things were just not working out for any of us. With some friends whom we meet over drinks and dinner (where we have time to discuss), I in fact do go into the details. With others, I have to resort to a generic “lots of stuff, we should meet up and talk about it”. My concern is that I don’t want to convey that it was a snap decision; there was a lot of thought given to the various options we had and it was not an easy decision to move back.
For some of the folks asking the question, there is a deeper thought process — they want to move to India at some point. If I know that, I feel like I should give them a list of tips and tricks and do’s and don’t's. I feel like giving them some heads up to the stuff that we didn’t know of, and also convey that despite knowing what’s going to come one simply cannot fathom what’s coming until they go through the experience themselves.
I suspect this will continue for some time, until we meet up with most of our first-level contacts, and until then, we will re-live all our pain points over and over again
Over the weekend, I had a twitter conversation with the Wordboxer developers, trying to get them to port their game to Windows Phone. It brought to light an important point about the Windows Phone (and for that matter, Blackberry) app problem: most cool games and apps are being built by small shops or single developers who just don’t have the time to build and maintain more than one or maybe two versions of their app/game. I really hope the Windows Phone (and Windows 8) teams realize this and create ways and means to reach these folks and help them out with the education needed to have them port their apps.
I know with the addition to C++ and support for cross-platform game engines on both Windows Phone and Windows 8, things are easier in terms of porting, but the point is most devs look at market share numbers and shy away from the platform. Of course, the market share going up and reaching some level of respectability (10% in the US?) may automatically help, but until then, Microsoft has a tough problem on their hands. They have to increase sales of devices, they have to attract the big brands and they have to make sure the indie devs also consider Windows Phone, if not at launch, at least soon after.
Fingers are crossed.
Windows Phone app problem
Small devs really don’t have time to develop and maintain code for more than one or two platforms. Even though Windows Phone dev tools are arguably better than anything else out there, and porting is easier with Windows Phone 8, it comes down to resources. Here is a great example of that.
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I am not a gamer, but I have an Xbox 360. I got it when Kinect was introduced and when they shifted the focus to entertainment. I am a happy customer, paying for Xbox LIVE Gold, and cannot wait to get the XBOX ONE.
Update: Found this amazing Kinect video at Wired. Watch it all the way. It is awesome.
Now that we have decided to move back, I have been thinking hard, really hard about what could have been done differently, what could have changed our experience, and in general, how I can help anybody else in our place.
So here are some tips, tricks, suggestions and gotchas. If you are reading this and have any additional points to add, please let me know and I will gladly update the list.
- First and foremost, find a place to live close to the person you are closest to in that city. If not in the same complex, find something that is less than 15-20 minutes of drive time. Ideally, walking distance. You may not pop into their home all the time, but it sure is a huge help when you need to find the nearest/best hair cutting place or a reliable plumber or grocery stores to avoid, etc.
- Be ready to become dependent. I am not talking about losing independence because you may have to move in with parents or in-laws. I am talking about being dependent on domestic help of various kinds – full-time/part-time servant, driver, the guy who presses your clothes, grocery delivery, etc. All these service persons are available, for relatively low cost too (esp for “IT” salaries), but most of these tasks are not doable without them. Usually there is no dishwasher, so if the maid does not come, you end up having to wash each thing by yourself. It is very dusty, so there is no way you can go more than a day or two without dusting the whole place. Driving is extremely stressful, so you do need a driver for most of the day. And so on. So be ready to give up your independence (in that way).
- Even though cities like Bangalore are “built for the expat” as in they have communities catering to expats, services built to address expat needs, etc., I would strongly urge you not to live life in India as an American (or any other country person). You decide to move to India, live like an Indian. You will get extremely frustrated if you live life like an American. Don’t get fooled by the setup. Underneath, it is all Indian, no matter what the façade looks like.
- Related to the above point, don’t try to live in a bubble too much. Don’t protect yourself by living in air conditioning, drinking only bottled water, etc. After the initial few weeks of transitioning, just let go. Roll down the windows and take in some of the diesel smoke. Have normal “RO” water at good restaurants. Let the kids into the community swimming pool. The sooner you blur the line between “there” and “here”, the better. Of course, you need to use discretion like eating at roadside stalls but not drinking their water, but in general, live outside the bubble.
- If you have a choice between an extremely large complex with plenty of amenities and a small complex with basic amenities, choose the latter. I know it may seem counter-intuitive because if you live in a big complex, the chances you will make more friends are higher. However, what we noticed was, the bigger the complex, the easier it is to not meet the same people more than once or twice, ever. If you are in a smaller complex, I feel there would be a better chance of actually getting to know the neighbors.
- Service providers are not responsible. Just keep that in mind. They have no sense of ownership, no attention to detail, and most importantly, no sense of responsibility. A plumber may say he is coming at 10am but won’t show up all day and will never even call you that he cannot make it, and worse, won’t apologize for either of those issues. Just know that the biggest issues will arise when you set up various services. Typically you won’t need to interact with these guys on a day-to-day basis. However, as I experienced, it is extremely frustrating when pretty much every single service provider repeats the same crime – being late or not showing up, doing an incomplete job, providing incorrect updates or instructions and in general doing what would be considered an unsatisfactory job. Just be ready for it.
- Give up your politeness. When dealing with any service provider including servants, drivers, waiters, parking garage attendants, watchmen, etc., don’t be afraid to be what you may consider borderline rude. Being bossy is always better than being polite. If you notice that the other person is someone who can handle politeness, you can turn down the volume on the bossiness. The general rule of thumb is if you don’t indicate that you are running the show, they will. And you don’t ever want that to happen. I must admit, this was one of my biggest challenges. I simply could not behave like that.
- Some logistics – get proof of residence established early. Address verification is a big deal and if you don’t have a local address it would be hard or impossible to get any service started. Keep 100s of passport-sized photos of the entire family ready. Well, not 100s, but dozens at least. You need them everywhere, just like the proof of residence. Make sure you have an ID proof that shows residence too. California driver’s license did not fly in some cases for me, because it did not have proof that I am an Indian. Finally, make many photocopies of these various proofs.
- Save yourself the trouble and get an automatic shift car. I know there are advantages in a manual shift, biggest being a cost advantage, but my left leg is screaming for rest after maybe 10 minutes of driving in a stop-and-go situation. Which happens all the time. An automatic shift car will give you the much needed relief when driving around in traffic.
These are just some of the thoughts that I could collect. I may keep adding to this list over the next few weeks.
I realize that this may be something every person who returns to India may write, but I didn’t want that to stop my contribution. Hope this helps :-)