My Method for Organizing Digital Photos and Videos

As you keep filling up your phone with pictures and videos and then occasionally copy them to your computer, you must be thinking, I must organize my pictures. This method is also very effective for backup purposes as it leads to an easier way of getting all pictures and videos backed up. More about that in a future post.

Folders on My Hard Drive

My main computer is a laptop with a relatively small hard drive. There isn’t enough room to store all of my pictures and videos going back many years. I purchased an external hard drive, similar to this one. Within the hard drive, I set up a folder structure:

You’re probably wondering how I have folders going back to the 1920s – there were surely no digital cameras then! I use these folders not only to store pictures taken now but also scanned pictures. This simple year method allows me to keep all pictures, regardless of where they originated.

Within each year folder, there are subfolders for each month. For example, in 2017 the structure is as follows:

Then, within every month, there is a series of folders and pictures. If there is a specific event, such as a birthday party or and outing where I took a lot of pictures, I would create a folder there. If I have just a couple of pictures that were taken while out, they are put in the folder for the month. This short amount of time spent figuring out how to organize your pictures is well worth it in the long term when you want to find them!

For example, this is the folder for July 2005. There were several event where I took pictures such as a wedding, or in the cases of folders labelled like ‘weekend 15-17, it’s pictures from that weekend. The remaining pictures are others that were taken that month that didn’t warrant specific categorization.

You will also notice that the pictures are named a certain way. The method I generally use is to name the file based on who is in the picture and/or where they are. Also, when I say picture, a short video taken with my phone would also be included in the same folder where pictures are stored.

Scanned Photos

As for scanned photos, the storage method is identical. If I have a collection of pictures from August of 1962, I will scan them and create the appropriate folder structure. In some cases where I don’t know the exact year, I have created folders such as ‘1960s’ and then keep the pictures there.

Other Categories of Photos

If you look at my year photo structure from earlier, there are 2 additional folders listed:

  • Family pictures
  • scan

In any way of storing pictures and videos, there are always exceptions. In my case, as part of my genealogy research, I also have collections of old photos that I don’t want to store in the year/month/event method. For these, I keep the ‘Family Pictures’ folder where I can store pictures based on other categories.

The ‘scan’ folder is where I keep scanned photos that haven’t yet been categorized and placed in folders.

As you develop your own storage system, you will find a system that works for you. The key recommendation is to keep all photos in a common folder structure as it makes backup and copying much easier.

Next time we will talk about making backup copies of your pictures and videos.

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Backup vs Sync – a case for both

Everyone knows that they need backup copies of all of their important data, but when it comes time to actually set it up, that’s when most people get confused by what to do so end up doing nothing. Let’s  start by understanding two important concepts – backup and sync.

Backup

Traditional backup software takes a full copy of all data and places it in another location such as an external hard drive or a remote system over the Internet. Backup can also copy only files that have changed since a previous backup. A key feature of backup software is that the backed up files are not easily accessible the way you open a document or a picture that is located on your desktop.

A backup of your entire computer puts the contents into a form that is easily restored if the contents are lost. Backups generally allow you to restore everything or a single file if that’s all you need.

Example of backup software include online services such as Carbonite, Backblaze and IDrive. Backup software for your computer includes programs such as Acronis True Image and Paragon Backup.

Sync

Synchronization or sync files is a process where you keep an identical set of files and/or folders on 2 or more computers. You can even set up a synced folder on the same computer. Syncing can be a manual or automatic process. The act of copying a set of files between 2 computers every day is a sync. There are numerous programs that allow automatic syncing of folders between computers. Unlike backups, a synced copy of a folder is accessible and the files can easily be opened or modified.

Examples of software for sync are Resilio Sync and FreeFileSync. Online services such as Dropbox and OneDrive are also forms of sync.

When should I use backup software?

If you do nothing else, choose an online backup service and have it back up your files. If you suffer any loss of data, even your entire computer, you can get back all of your important files. The same can be done with local backup software that goes to an external hard drive, but remember that if a disaster should strike your home and all you have is an external hard drive backup, you may lose all of your data. The combination of online plus local backup is the ideal solution. The local backup gets used to restore in most cases and the online backup is if the local is broken or a disaster destroys all data in your house.

When should I use sync software?

Let me start by saying that all data protection should start with a good backup program or online service. If you use a service such as Dropbox or OneDrive then all of your files will get automatically synced online. Yes, this is a form of backup, but think about what happens if you get a virus. The online copy will also get infected. Most services like Dropbox and OneDrive will let you restore previous versions of files, but having a proper backup solution in place allows for a more certain restore in case of a virus.

Software such as Resilio or FreeFileSync allows for you to create copies of your files on another computer that you own. Resilio even lets this computer be in another physical location – more on that in a future post.

Here is an example that shows where you might use sync software. Let’s say you have a desktop and a laptop and while working at home you might switch between these computers. A synced folder of documents means that you can work on whichever computer you want and the files will be kept in sync. A service like Dropbox can perform this sync or a local program like Resilio will keep it in sync without using the cloud.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot more to say on the topic of backup and sync. In future posts, I will talk about other use cases, including a way to sync all of your home computers together and then set up one backup from a single computer.

What types of backup and sync are you currently using?

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Moving Your Email to the Cloud – Part 3

Once you have moved your email to a cloud based service such as Gmail or Outlook.com, your next step is moving your existing emails that you want accessible from this service.

Moving Your Email Messages

If you use Microsoft Outlook or another email program that uses IMAP for accessing email then it’s a relatively straightforward process. For this post, I will use Outlook as an example, but this can be done with nearly any email program that you might be using.

First, add your account to Outlook. This varies depending on the Outlook version and is generally File->Add Account or Tools–>Accounts and Settings.

Enter your account information including incoming mail server (IMAP). If you don’t plan to send email from Outlook, then you can leave out the SMTP settings.

After the account is added, you will see your current local email folders along with the ones in your cloud based email account. It’s now just a matter of dragging over emails and/or folders to your new email account.

Before doing any of this email movement, it is of critical importance to back up your local email. In Outlook, this means finding the PST file and making a copy. If you use another program, find out how to back up the email data and back it up. There’s nothing worse that discovering that messages you thought you dragged over actually got lost and went missing. I’ve seen this happen, so don’t be disappointed – make a copy first!

Moving Your Contacts

If you have 1000 email contacts in Outlook then you will likely want to keep these in your move to a cloud based service. The first step is getting your contacts out of Outlook. Go to your contacts. Similar to adding an account, Go to File->Open and Export. Choose Import/Export and choose Export to a File. Then choose Comma Separated Values.

Confirm the contacts folder and then select the file name to save. You can choose Map Custom Fields to make some adjustments in the data that is exported if you want. Depending on the email service, you should be able to import this contacts file.

After Moving Your Email

Congratulations! You’ve now gotten all of your email and contacts moved to a safe and secure cloud based email service. No longer do you rely on one computer for checking on archived email messages or for sending email. If something happens to your computer, you will not lose any email as it’s not stored there anymore. In future posts, we will talk about how to protect this even further by backing up your online email to another source.  Which email service do you use? Are you satisfied with it or is there something you wish worked better? Let me know in the comments.

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My computer crashed and I lost no data

With the tools available today for backing up and syncing data, there is no reason for data to be lost when something bad happens to your computer. A recent story about a friend of mine illustrates this well.

This friend is a lawyer who works from a home office. While spending a few months in Florida, his laptop crashed and required a complete reinstall, wiping out all of his data.

A few years ago, I talked to him about setting up a system where all of his data is safely and securely protected. This involved a few things:

  • cloud based file storage system – in his case, Dropbox
  • migration of email to cloud based – in his case, Outlook.com

All of his current folders with important client data were moved into Dropbox. Dropbox offers a free 2 GB plan but his data was larger than that so he opted for the 1 TB plan at a cost of $129 Canadian ($100 US) per year. The added benefit of using Dropbox is that it syncs automatically between computers so he can seamlessly move between desktop and laptop as needed. Dropbox also has an app for the iPhone / iPad so he can view his documents on these devices when out or when visiting with a client.

Over the last year my lawyer friend also moved his email from one that downloads all email into Microsoft Outlook on his computer to Microsoft’s Outlook.com cloud based email service. Since he also subscribes to Office 365, which is Microsoft Office paid for yearly, he gets an enhanced Outlook.com experience with no ads and additional storage space. It also means that all messages are stored in the cloud, but can also be accessed through Microsoft Outlook on a computer (see previous series about moving email to the cloud)

If you are familiar with Office 365, you’ll know that one of the benefits is 1 TB of space in OneDrive, Microsoft’s answer to Dropbox. You then might ask, why would I tell me friend to pay for both Office 365 and Dropbox? At this time, there is one very important feature that is not available in OneDrive – easy restoration of folders. Let’s say that a ransomware virus goes through your computer and infects your Dropbox files. All of them are wiped out or overwritten with garbage. Dropbox has mechanisms in place to allow the mass restore of a deleted or changed folder. OneDrive forces you to restore file by file. This is fie if you have 10 or even 50 files, but imaging if 5000 files needed to be restored? Until OneDrive updates this feature, my recommendation is to pay for Dropbox or a similar service that offers these recovery options.

In addition to Dropbox, my lawyer friend also uses CrashPlan for business to back up all of his important files, including personal pictures and videos. This extra layer of protection ensures that all of his critical data is protected. The next piece that I will recommend to him is to add an external hard drive to his computer at home that also backups up the above mentioned files. In the case of a restore requirement, it is always faster to restore from a local hard drive instead of from a cloud based service. The cloud service becomes a secondary insurance policy.

The moral of the story here is to always have numerous levels of backup. Computers have become so inexpensive that they can be seen as appliances that are replaced when they wear out. As long as your data is safely protected and backed up, you can quickly get back up and running when disaster strikes.

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Moving Your Email to the Cloud – Part 2

In the previous post, we talked about why you want to consider moving your email to a cloud based service. This is especially beneficial if you are currently downloading all of your email to your computer using a program like Outlook or Windows Live Mail. Another consideration is that you are using your internet provider’s email service. An example would be an address like neil@rogers.com (Rogers Internet) or neil@verizon.com (Verizon Internet).  If you leave your internet provider then you will also lose your email address. Today we will go over how to pick an email service.

Long Term Availability of an Email Provider

The first criteria to consider is the longevity of the company providing the email service. If you read about some new email provider who promises 50 GB of space for all users for free, be wary. The cost of providing free services might mean that the provider is unable to continue running after a short period of time. Nothing is guaranteed but a large company such as Google or Microsoft is likely to be around for awhile.



Ease of Use

This is a more subjective criteria but if you are a relative newcomer to computers or want simplicity then a set of 1000 features isn’t going to entice you to sign up! The good thing about free services is that you can sign up, try it out and then cancel if you don’t like it.

Feature Set

There are certain features that set different services apart. Below are some examples that might help you narrow down between the most popular email services:

Outlook.com

This is run by Microsoft and has a lot of the look and feel of Microsoft Outlook that many people have been running on their computers for a long time. If you are an Outlook user, an Outlook.com email account can be easily integrated with Microsoft Outlook on your computer. This gives you the best of both worlds – from any computer your can reach your email, calendar and contacts and they will all appear when you are on your computer using Microsoft Outlook. Other services such as Gmail don’t integrate as well with Outlook. You can of course get your email from Gmail with Outlook on your computer but not contacts and calendar (except for certain paid premium versions)

 

Gmail

Gmail has been around for a long time and is run by Google, one of the largest companies in the world. A Gmail account is often used as a login to many popular websites. If you already use lots of Google services then you likely have a Gmail account that is used for logging in.

 

Yahoo!

Yahoo was recently purchased by Verizon but it is reasonable to expect that the Yahoo mail service will continue. There are many millions of people who use Yahoo, so this is a good example of a service that is in transition but has thus far continued to exist.

Apple iCloud Mail

If you use an Apple device such as an iPhone, Apple mail and the corresponding iCloud service is an appealing choice. The web based email look much like it does on an iPhone and you can even get free Windows software from Apple that allows you to use Microsoft Outlook with Apple iCloud Mail.

Making a choice for cloud based email

There’s no one size fits all. Learn about the different email service by going to Google and do searches such as “free online email service reviews”. Read comments about the pros and cons of different services and then try them out. It’s important to be comfortable with your choice before you give out your new email address to your friends and family.

If you don’t care about the email left behind on your computer then you can just start using your new email address! If you have email to move over or contacts, keep reading into the next post where we will talk about getting the virtual ‘moving truck’ to take your data to the cloud.

 

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Moving Your Email to the Cloud – Part 1

Let’s start with a quick poll: what email program do you use? Or is your email in the cloud?

What email program do you use

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There are two primary ways to store your email:

  1. On your computer in a program such as Microsoft Outlook
  2. In the cloud in a service such as Gmail, Yahoo! or Outlook.com

If you are already using a cloud based service then you’re done, you can stop reading! I will have posts that talk about making the best use of these cloud services and how to protect your email messages in these locations.

email to cloud

Why move email to the cloud?

If you have been storing years of email on your computer then you may want to consider moving to a cloud based service. Why would you want to do this?

  • You keep online receipts and financial correspondence in your email – imagine the headaches if all of this was lost due to a failed hard drive.
  • if the information is only on your computer then it’s only accessible when you’re home. Wouldn’t it be great to access all of your email history from anywhere?

For many years I kept all of my old emails in Microsoft Outlook on my home computer. I switched to Gmail so all of my new messages were easily accessible on my phone but old ones only at home. Since moving all of my emails online, there have been many occasions when I’m out that I need to find some old piece of information and have quickly found it right from my phone.

That’s great but I really like Outlook/Apple Mail/Thunderbird…

For several years I recommended to my cousin who has thousands of emails in Outlook PST files that he should move everything to a cloud based service. He much prefers Outlook over any of the cloud based services that he tried. I informed him that he can have the best of both worlds. With relative ease, you can still use your email program of your choice and connect it to your preferred cloud based service. The great thing about this is that when you are at home and filing or deleting emails, all the changes are simultaneously happening in the cloud based email too. You can work with whichever you want – the email program on the computer or the cloud based service.

Ok, you’ve convinced me, but how to I move my emails

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Before transferring over your years of emails, you first need to decide which cloud based service to use. I will first tell you what not to use – your Internet provider’s email.

What do I mean by this? A popular provider in my area is Rogers. When signing up, many people have email addresses in the form of yourname@rogers.com. Rogers has a partnership with Yahoo! so you get a Yahoo! account branded by Rogers. In theory you could move all of your email here, but I highly recommend against it:

If you cancel or change your Internet provider, you will lose your email account that you have with them!

Years ago, the only way to get an email address was with your Internet provider. This is no longer the case. You can register your own domain (I did that years ago, more in a future post) or use a previously mentioned service like Outlook.com, Yahoo! or Gmail. If you are choosing to move your computer based email to an online cloud service, I highly recommend signing up for a free account with one of these email based cloud services. There are numerous advantages:

  • assuming these companies stay in business, your email is for life
  • they are free, and most have a paid service that gives you features like extra space or no advertising
  • you can still use your Internet service provider email address with most of these services – more about that in another post in this series

In the next post, I will go over choosing from the online email providers and then talk about how to get your email moved online.

 

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Data Retention – what do you want to keep for the future?

A long time ago, when photography was only paper based, pictures were put in albums so that they would be protected and preserved for future generations. My grandparents labeled pictures and created albums, some of which are still in existence today. When you are doing your taxes, you keep at least 7 years worth of paperwork in case the government wants to give your tax return a second glance. University students who are writing a thesis might work on the document for several years and keep lots of research in the form of books, articles and notes. What do all of these items have in common? All are important items that have value for the owner and need to be protected and preserved – sometimes for different periods of time. This is known in the data protection business as retention. Retention is the amount of time that a document or item is to be saved. Let’s look at the types of items that we retain in more detail.

dance recital retention
dance recital – you’ll want to keep these photos

Digital Photographs

When you took that picture of your kid’s dance recital last week, did you think about how you would find it and look at it in 20 years? We live in at time where we are taking more pictures than ever before. This is thanks to the development of cameras in mobile phones – and the fact that these phones are always with us. Phones have a limited capacity, so one option that has become popular and easy, is to use a cloud based service like Apple’s iCloud or Google Photos to keep a growing picture collection. That is a great solution as long as these services continue to exist but what happens in 20 years if one of them either goes out of business or changes their business model to eliminate the storage of photos? While this seems unlikely for Apple and Google based on their business today, we cannot assume that anything is forever.

tax-financial-documents retention
don’t lose these documents unless you like paying tax penalties

Tax, financial and other documents

Lots of financial documents and statements are easily available online and can be downloaded to your computer as a PDF file. With the help of a scanner, all of these scattered bits of paper can be digitally stored together to provide a quick reference to financial statements or to bring together all documents required for tax season. It’s easy to store these files on your computer but what happens if your computer crashes? Try explaining to the tax department that you lost 10 years of data when your hard drive crashed. I don’t think that will excuse you from paying your taxes! Now, it’s possible that you don’t need to keep every document forever but copies of ownership for properties or life insurance policies need to be kept long term. Before determining a data retention strategy for your documents, you need to first categorize them based on how long they need to be kept in order to ensure that the right documents are kept for the right amount of time.

school assignment retention
better make sure your school assignments are frequently saved

Retention of school assignments and short term projects

These types of documents are very important but possibly for a shorter period of time. A student in high school working on a project might need the materials and final document for only the current school year or possibly until they graduate. Once the high school diploma is in hand, these items might be kept for sentimental reasons but they no longer have the same critical value. The same can be said for a 6 month work project. The raw materials to work on the report may or may not be important but the final document could be critical and may need to be retained longer term. The key point to take away for these types of documents is that they need to be protected during a shorter period of time, but during that time they are very important. In the case of a school project or PhD thesis, versions along the way have great value. Can you imagine working on the final draft of your thesis and then losing the file, only to discover that the one backup came from the first week you were working on it?

All of the above items are important digital data that must be protected – and all for different lengths of time, or as we said earlier, all have different retention times. Prioritizing your data allows the right protection method for each data type.

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Protecting your files when moving to a new computer

You’ve spent several months researching the latest in technology and you buy a brand new top-of-the line laptop. You move over all of your important documents, family pictures, and videos. Everything is working great and you’re loving how fast the new computer is. One morning you start up your new computer and there’s a dreaded message that your hard drive is not installed and your computer doesn’t start.

This isn’t fiction – it actually happened recently to my cousin.

No problem you say, since you’ve got all your data backed up you can just get the computer fixed and put back all of your important files.

What’s that you say? You didn’t back it up? You’d better hope that whoever fixes the computer can retrieve all of your files!

Even though buying a new computer usually means that you’re getting something that is secure and reliable, there are no guarantees. The first thing to be done once the computer is up and running is to set up a backup routine.  In future posts, we will discuss the process of deciding how to back up and getting it done.

One easy method for dealing with a failure with a new computer is to leave all of your files on your old computer for a period of time. In the case of my cousin, even though this happened 1 month after he started using his new computer, all of the files were still on his old one and were easily retrieved.

That’s great you say, but what about the important files like finances and other documents that change every day? For those types of files, all of these remained safe as all of them were located in a cloud based service, such as Dropbox. Getting your frequently updated files into a cloud based service is a good first step to protecting all of your files.

How do you protect your frequently changing critical files?

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Back up your paper calendar

Maybe you prefer a good, old fashioned paper calendar over having one on your phone. People ask me all the time if I think they should switch to a digital calendar. My answer is always the same – use the tools that make the most sense to you. Sometimes a hybrid approach works. Last year my son Benji, who was in grade 9 at the time, was given a suggestion to buy on of those large monthly calendars so he could plan out a month at a time, something like this:

This was the perfect complement to his Google calendar, which he shares with us (more about that in a future post). Every month he plans out his school projects, other appointments, and plans with friends. Is there duplication? Yes, but this overall written view coupled with his Google calendar helps him remember where he has to be and what he has to do.

Wednesday nights are busy ones at our house. Benji goes to an activity at a mall nearby and buys dinner at the food court so that he can eat before being taken to another activity. While waiting for his food, he put down his calendar and forgot about it. When we checked with the mall the next day, there was no sign of the calendar.

Since this calendar is more of a supplement to his main digital one, the information located on the paper calendar can easily be recreated.  But this got me thinking about how we can apply digital data protection strategies to non digital items like paper calendars. One could take a picture of the calendar on a regular basis so that there is another copy of the information.

What this really showed is how our existing paper based products, such as calendars, notebooks and address books need to be kept safe (such as not forgetting them in a mall!) In this case, the large monthly calendar was an added benefit and doesn’t replace the digital version.

There is room for both digital and paper based product and different ways to protect both. What is your method for storing your calendar and contacts? How do you keep them protected?

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You don’t need antivirus software

What’s that? I can just picture the look on your face when you read the post subject line. I don’t need antivirus software!?

shocked look

Ok, I’m not being completely honest. While you don’t ‘need’ antivirus software, I still recommend it. Good antivirus software may prevent a nasty virus from hitting your computer.

For years we’ve been advised to have antivirus software on our computers to protect us from deadly viruses that can corrupt or destroy our important files. And if you properly protect your important files then it doesn’t matter if you have antivirus software or not – you can recover everything. If all of your files are backed up when disaster strikes, then you can get it all back. Even if you have both your computer software backed up (like Windows or Mac operating system) and your data, who really wants to have to do all the recovery work when an antivirus program might have neutralized the virus threat before it took hold.

Besides antivirus software, there are some thing you can do to keep your computer safe:

  • only go to sites that you know are trusted
  • when receiving email attachments, don’t open them unless you both know who it is from and you are expecting something to be sent
  • only install trusted software on your computer

virus detected computer

Even with doing the above mentioned items, you might still get a virus or some type of malware if a known site gets or even a friend gets hacked. I will have more to say in a future post about what to look for in antivirus software but if you are looking for a quick recommendation to either

  • keep your computer protected
  • neutralize malware or a virus that has infected your computer

I recommend checking out Malwarebytes

A few years ago when I was searching for software to clean up some malware on my computer, I tested a few different programs. What I liked about Malwarebytes is that it offered the full program functionality for free. This means that you can have it scan your computer to not only find malware and viruses but also it will clean things up. When it comes time to recommend software to put on my family and clients’ computers, I tell them to pay for the yearly fee to get the full version.

The full version gets you real time malware and virus scanning. What is the difference? Real time means it catches viruses as they try to infect your computer. Earlier I mentioned that you should be vigilant in what websites you visit. When you have Malwarebytes installed and you reach an infected website, it catches the problem before you even know it. Think of it like a personal security guard always waiting to protect you right on your computer!

Check out the link below to see the options for purchasing a license for Malwarebytes. I highly recommend running the free 2 week trial first and a full scan of your computer.


Malwarebytes for Home | Anti-Malware Premium | Free Trial Download

Do you have another program that you prefer to finding and catching viruses? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

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