- Should I backup to an SD Card?
- Is there any reason to use a VPN at home?
- What repair discs do I need?
- Does downloading use the same amount of bandwidth as just watching a Youtube video?
- Are offers for continued XP support and security legitimate or worthwhile?
- What’s this new anti-spam policy about, and how will it affect me?
Links above are to Ask Leo! articles based on the transcript below.
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Welcome to AskLeo! Answercast #156. I’m Leo Notenboom and I’ll be answering questions that people have been asking out at askleo.com.
Today’s Answercast is brought to you by The Ask Leo! Guide to Routine Maintenance. Keep your computer running better – longer! That’s what The Ask Leo! Guide to Routine Maintenance is all about. Culled from the articles on Ask Leo! it will help you speed up your computer, free up space and avoid spending money you just don’t need to spend by making that machine last as long as possible.
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Should I backup to an SD Card?
Now that you can buy a 256 GB SD card for about $100, would that be a good way to back up a laptop? I always hate plugging in an external drive to backup my laptop. This way I can schedule automatic backup and not worry about the media. The 256 GB card has a lifetime warranty and so if fails you can, in theory, get a replacement. Any idea about the expected failure time for reading or writing the SD card daily?
You know my gut tells me that this is a bad idea. There are a few things that make me, I’ll just say, uncomfortable.
First, realize that a lifetime warranty is fantastic. If the SD card dies, you get a replacement for the card. But if the SD card dies, it’s taken whatever’s on it, with it – your backups, all of the backups you may have stored on it are gone. Poof! And typically without any hope of recovery.
Now, of course, the same could be said of any external hard drive as well. They do die though technically, the data stands a somewhat higher chance of recovery should that external drive be a traditional hard drive.
The difference here is what “lifetime” to expect?
Now, I do want to make one clarification here – a $100, 256 GB SD card falls into the category of what I typically call cheap flash memory. And as we all know, flash memory wears out more quickly the more often you write to it. And periodic backups write a lot of data. I personally would not trust my backups to a cheap SD card.
However, a $100, 256 GB SSD (Solid State Drive) is actually a different beast. Actual prices aren’t quite down to the $100 level but I was actually surprised to see them getting closer. While it technically uses flash memory, it’s of a far higher quality. It’s not a card; you can’t just insert it into an SD slot; it’s actually designed to be a hard disk drive replacement. You would install it in your machine or into an external drive enclosure – just like a hard drive.
While its lifespan is likely to be much longer than the cheap flash memory card that’s used in an SD card, I still wouldn’t use it for backups. Why? Well, it’s a waste. The big advantage of Solid State Drives is their speed – specifically their reading speed. When used as a primary drive and a system drive, you’ll often notice significant improvements in your overall system feel in its speed. Many machines are now coming with SSDs as their system drives.
But that much speed you just don’t need for a backup for a variety of reasons. For the same money you can get at least twice as much traditional hard disk storage or even more.
Now I realize the appeal of just being able to insert an SD card into the side of your laptop, for example, and use that for backup. And I’ll absolutely agree that it’s a 1000% better than nothing – but it has some inherent risks that I, again, personally would not be willing to accept. Risks like the backup not being there when you need it.
Backing up is too important. Backup over the network to another machine if you don’t like attaching an external drive – or just bite the bullet and attach that external drive periodically. And you know what, that latter is exactly what I do with my own laptop.
Is there any reason to use a VPN at home?
Hi, Leo. I’m wondering if a VPN service might be useful at home on my personal Wi-Fi? I use a desktop and my Android smartphone there. I know it’s useful elsewhere.
A VPN or a Virtual Private Network is typically offered by a service that then encrypts all of your internet activity between your computer and their service. Normally, a VPN isn’t particularly useful at home but there are a few scenarios where it might make sense.
First, a quick review of what a VPN offers you. Let’s say you visit askleo.com (as, I of course, I hope you do – often). That connection is not encrypted. What that means is that the pages you request of Ask Leo! and the pages themselves as they’re downloaded and displayed on your computer, are actually visible to anyone who can intercept your internet connection.
The most common scenario is an open Wi-Fi hotspot for example, where someone sitting in a corner with a laptop can listen into unencrypted conversations.
Many sites, on the other hand, you visit are encrypted. Anything with https, for example, so that they can’t see the contents of the conversation but they can see that you’re having a conversation, with say, your bank or your email service.
A VPN gets in the middle. First, you connect to the VPN service; this connection is encrypted so no one can see what transpires across it. When you visit an unencrypted site, again, like askleo.com, your computer actually first connects to the VPN service’s computer across that encrypted connection. So no one in the coffee shop’s open Wi-Fi, for example, can see what you’re up to.
Then that service’s server connects, unencrypted once again, to the site you’re visiting.
Not only can that person in the corner of the coffee shop not see what pages you’re viewing, they can’t even see what sites you’re visiting at all. And that goes for https sites, as well as email and other connections, in addition to plain old http. The connection might be a little bit slower since it’s having to go through this additional server but it’s completely encrypted as it makes that last leap to and from your computer.
Now, we know that it’s potentially valuable in situations like open Wi-Fi hotspots at that coffee shop I’ve been talking about. It’s one way to protect yourself from that creepy guy in the corner with his laptop. But what about at home?
Well, a VPN is actually useful at home if you’re internet is provided by someone you don’t completely trust. For example, when your roommate, landlord or your neighbor is the individual providing you an internet connection, a VPN can go a long way to insuring your privacy. And that’s true whether the connection is wired or wireless.
Remember, whomever it is that provides your internet actually has the ability to see what data is transferred between your computer and the internet. Your ISP can see anything it might care to and in these cases, your roommate, landlord, neighbor or whoever else, well, they are your ISP for all practical purposes. They’re providing your internet and with sufficient knowledge on their part, they could snoop in on the unencrypted contents of your connection.
The other scenario that comes to mind is one of location or rather attempting to get around location specific restrictions. For example, you’re in country A and you want to access a site in country B, but for whatever reason, you can’t. Most commonly this comes up when videos are blocked based on where you live. One solution that sometimes works is to use a VPN service that resides in country B or some other country that doesn’t have that same restriction.
To the web site or video, it looks like you’re coming from the VPN’s country – not your own. Sometimes, that works. Once again, depending on what you’re doing, performance can be an issue – particularly with video.
Those are the two items I can think of. As long as your router is secured and your Wi-Fi is using something like a WPA or WPA2 password, then by and large, you probably don’t need a VPN at home. Most VPN services are tailored for the traveler who is using open and untrustworthy hotspots and other internet connections on the road.
What repair discs do I need?
Another computer advice newsletter I subscribe to just had a big piece on emergency repair discs and it got me wondering whether I need a Windows 7 repair disc and a Macrium emergency disc. Do they do the same things or are they different?
You know this gets really confusing really quick. The problem is that there are several different types of discs that do several types of things and yet they can all be called emergency repair discs.
Let’s see how many I can think of.
I’ll start with the easy one. The repair or rescue disc created by your backup program, in your case and in mine, that’s Macrium Reflect but this applies pretty much to all third party backup programs. Yes, you should create this disc and save it in a safe place. This is the disc you would use to restore your entire system from a system image backup. Basically, you’ll end up booting from this disc. When you do so, it runs a version of your backup program and you can then copy the backup image back to your system drive – completely erasing whatever was on the system drive.
Now, all is not lost if you don’t have one when you need it since typically you can actually use another machine and perhaps another installed copy of the backup program to create the repair/rescue disc when you need it. So a backup program’s repair disc is primarily for restoring an image backup to the machine especially in cases when the machine won’t boot.
Windows itself can make a rescue or repair disc. Much like your backup program, this disc is what you would use to restore a backup image that you made if you had been using Windows own backup program.
Even if you don’t use Windows backup, this can still be a useful disc to have. It also includes actual repair tools that can be used by yourself or a technician to repair boot problems and perform other types of recovery – including a system restore, for example, in those cases where your machine can’t boot normally.
As it turns out, if you have your Windows installation media, you already have this rescue disc. When you boot from those install discs, it’s actually one of the options. You’ll see “Repair” usually in the lower left hand corner. If you don’t have your Windows installation media then yea, it’s worth burning a copy of this as well. If you don’t have it when you need it, you may be able to use another machine running the exact same version of Windows to create one.
Now, sometimes machines come with rescue discs that are provided by the manufacturer or there is sometimes manufacturer specific software on the machine that will let you create them. Here there is really no standard as to what these discs contain or what they actually do. It varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. Occasionally, they’ll contain some hardware specific diagnostic software, which can occasionally be helpful when your machine experiences a problem.
More commonly the discs are simply used to reset the machine to factory condition. That typically means using information that’s been stored in a hidden partition on your machine that is then copied over the system drive, the C drive. Once you do that, the machine is pretty much as it was the day it was shipped from the factory. Note that most of these discs do not have the ability to truly reinstall Windows. So they may not be of much help on another machine or if the hard drive with that hidden partition has been replaced.
Again, this can be a useful disc to have. If your machine didn’t come with it, you probably want to make one also. If you don’t have one, and find that you need one, this can sometimes, though not always, be actually provided by the manufacturer. Again, it depends on who they are and what their policies are.
There are probably other rescue discs that I can’t think of right now but those are the basic ones.
Now, let me tell you what I do. First, I just keep any discs that come with my system. I expect and hope that you actually do the same. Without even knowing what they are or what’s on them there’s simply no reason not to keep them in a safe place. They can come in handy from time to time.
However, in my case, I actually have yet to use any of them in, gosh, at least, ten or fifteen years. Most are still shrink wrapped in my basement.
Now, as you know, I back up with Macrium Reflect and of course, I have the rescue media for that. If you do nothing else I would strongly recommend that you use an image backup program regularly and have the rescue media for it. There are very few problems that simply restoring to a recent image wouldn’t fix. Even problems that may or may not be fixed by some of the other discs I’ve talked about. And yes, I absolutely have used Macrium’s rescue disc from time to time. It truly is a lifesaver.
Does downloading use the same amount of bandwidth as just watching a Youtube video?
Hi, Leo. So I need to understand something. We’ve done the “illegal” thing as we homeschool our children and I downloaded a tool to be able to download Youtube clips so that we can reply them for our kids during the times that we school them. There actually are some good things out on Youtube. My question relates to this. If I download and save a file of say, six minutes, it’s sometimes 130 MG of data. If I watch the file normally through YouTube, does it also eat up a 130 MB of data? So what’s cheaper? Viewing it normally or downloading it to have it to view plenty of times again?
On the surface, and perhaps for many other services including the videos that I host myself, the answer is pretty simple. Youtube and other services on the other hand get very sophisticated and that makes this actually a little bit hard to explain.
In the simplest case, when you watch a video using a player on a web page, that video is being downloaded or transferred to your machine, it’s just being played immediately. Thus watching it once is exactly the same as downloading it once. Watching it twice, downloads it twice.
This is true of the companion videos that I provide with my books, for example. Each time you watch the video using the player on the purchaser’s only website, the video is essentially streamed or downloaded to your machine. However, I also provide a download link to the video that you can download. And then you can download it just once. And then play it using the media player of your choice however many times you like. Download it once; watch it as much as you like.
In reality, though, my download link isn’t quite the same video. It’s higher resolution. The version that plays on the page is typically 640 x 360. The downloadable version is typically 1280 x 720, an HD resolution comparable to 720p so it’s a little bit bigger if you download it but you only have to download it once.
But that actually opens the door to the complexity that sites like YouTube and Amazon and probably Netflix and others try to address. In order to watch a movie without the starts and stops, your internet connection must be able to download it fast enough. The way that these services deal with that is that they start by testing, very quickly before the video plays, just how fast our internet connection is and then they show you a resolution or a quality level that should play continuously at whatever your internet speed is. The more advanced services (and I think all three of these count) will actually monitor the progress as the video is being played.
They can actually reduce or increase the resolution or quality while the video is being played. You’ll notice that as images are sharper and clearer, or conversely fuzzier, depending on the direction of the change.
So, how does this all apply to you? Well, depending on the download tool you use, you’ll have to downloaded a video at a specific resolution. That’s downloaded only once and each time you play it, your internet connection is not involved. When you view a video using Youtube’s player, the amount of data transferred may be the same; it may be more or it may be less all depending on the resolution that Youtube may or may not elect to give you based on your internet speed.
But one thing is certain, watching it on Youtube causes the data to be transferred each time. Downloading it and then watching the downloaded copy transfers the data across your internet connection only once.
Are offers for continued XP support and security legitimate or worthwhile?
I saw an ad on TV last night about someone offering security for Windows XP for $50 a year and it would cover 5 computers. Are you aware of this? Any comments?
I’m not aware of this one specifically but it’s hard to say on the class of service that they might be offering. Some might well be legitimate in that they’re honestly attempting to provide a real service. Others not so much. But even for the legitimate, the real question is – can they really deliver on what they promise?
First, let’s separate out security from support. Security would be things like keeping your anti-malware tools up to date and working on Windows XP. Perhaps things like anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall software and more. There’s no doubt there are both legitimate and worthwhile solutions if you must run Windows XP. In my opinion, though, this isn’t something you need to pay for. Many if not most of my currently recommended security software solutions continue to provide free solutions that work with Windows XP.
Now, eventually they too are going to drop XP support. That’s just the nature of the industry. They’re gonna move on. If you’re staying with XP, the trick at that point will be to find replacement security software should your current one ever drop XP support. Right now, however, I don’t think this is an immediate problem. As I said, most current security software vendors are continuing to support XP.
Now, when it comes to support, that’s a different issue. Support can of course mean simply helping you with your problems on Windows XP much like I do here at Ask Leo!. Now, while I don’t plan to stop answering Windows XP questions, you’ll see the frequency drop down as more and more of the questions I get relate to more recent versions of Windows and other topics.
So, a site or service that says they’re going to continue to support XP may simply be saying that. Whether or not that’s worth paying for depends on the site or service. I’ll just say that there’s a lot of free information out there. Again, like, Ask Leo!.
The ones that concern me the most are the services that claim to be able to actually provide fixes, specifically security fixes, for Windows XP. In a sense they’re continuing the Microsoft support that’s been dropped. To be clear, there is no official support or even officially supported way for anyone to do this. To do it properly, they really need access to the Windows XP source code, which Microsoft has not provided to anyone. And to do it properly they would also need access to all of the various configurations that Microsoft has tested Windows XP against. The testing effort alone for any significant change is truly staggering and it’s one of the reasons I’m sure that Microsoft was actually eager for XP support to come to an end.
Now, there are techniques that can be used to try and reverse engineer fixes to the existing Windows XP code. I’ve done this kind of thing myself, though not to XP. The problem here is that Windows is so incredibly complex that the risks of unintended side effects or consequences are enormous. Fundamentally, I personally couldn’t trust them.
My recommendation continues to be that you move away from Windows XP. I actually don’t care to what – later versions of Windows or even to supported versions of Linux or Mac. I’d save my $50 and I’d put it towards a new machine if that’s what’s required to make it happen. Until then, the best thing you can do is to keep your security software (the software you hopefully already have) running and as up to date as possible as long as that software is supported.
What’s this new anti-spam policy about, and how will it affect me?
Hi, Leo. AOL and Yahoo have recently been said to adopt a harsh DMARC policy to stem the problems of spam and phishing. From the outlook I think it’s a welcomed change despite causing some genuine emails to bounce back. Would you please explain what the implications to the users of these severs and any actions to be taken on the user’s part?
You know, I’m all too familiar with this policy of late. I’m one of the moderators on a Corgi related email list and we’ve been impacted by this change. And not in a good way.
DMARC stands for Domain Based Message Authentication Reporting and Conformance. It’s essentially a standard by which email senders tell the world “this is what email from my domain should look like.” It builds on other standards called SPF, Sender Policy Framework, and DKIM, Domain Keys Identified Mail.
If you’ve ever taken a look at the headers you normally don’t see in email, something like a View Message Source in Gmail, you’ll see that there are typically several references to SPF and DKIM, in those headers. The goal here is actually pretty simple: to help determine what is legitimate email and what is not. The problem however is that the changes made by AOL and Yahoo take what many consider to be an excessively aggressive or restricted position on what to do with some of the email that their users send. A stance that’s breaking email discussion lists all over the place.
So, first let’s distinguish between mailing lists and discussion lists. For purposes of this discussion, a mailing list is one to many. Something like my newsletter is a good example. I send it out and 60,000 people get it. If they reply, the reply goes to me and not to all of the other 60,000 members. A discussion list on the other hand, is an email address that when you send to it, your message goes to all of the members that are on that list. And when they reply, the reply also goes to all of the members. Thus the concept: members of this list can have a discussion via email.
It’s the latter scenario, discussion lists that are by far the most affected by this change.
Here’s why. The DKIM setting that was changed now says, using Yahoo as an example, if you get an email that is from an @yahoo.com email address, and that email was not actually sent by a Yahoo email server, then reject it. Now, on the surface that sounds kind of nifty. Spammers make it look like they’re sending from Yahoo accounts all the time; even when they’re not. The “from” address is trivially easy to fake. So these guys get stopped in their tracks at least when it comes to making things look like they come from Yahoo email addresses when in fact they did not.
But think for a minute how an email discussion list works. When you send an email to that list, you’re actually sending it to a mailing list management server.
It then takes your message and forwards it on to all the members of the mailing list. In other words, it is sending the messages to the recipients. That message from a Yahoo user is sent out on that final leg to the recipient by a non-Yahoo email server. It’s being sent by the discussion list’s server.
So if the recipient’s email server is paying attention to the DKIM change, it then says, “Hey, I just got email from a Yahoo.com address but it didn’t come from a Yahoo server. Therefore, I’m supposed to reject it.” And it does. As a result, Yahoo and AOL and perhaps other users can’t send emails to their discussion lists and have it reach all of the members.
But wait, it actually gets worse. Some email list servers take that rejection kind of hard. I’m tempted to say they take it personally. What happens is that some will actually remove the recipient from the discussion list for having rejected the message. Think it through for a minute; someone with a Yahoo email address sends a message to your discussion list. Someone else, some other random member of that discussion list gets unsubscribed because their mail server did what did DKIM told it to do. In practice, what really happens is that multiple members get unsubscribed all at once and that’s what we’ve been dealing with on the Corgi mailing list.
The good news here is that mailing list software is being updated to at least stop unsubscribing people so aggressively and they are also looking at ways to mitigate the impact of this DKIM change so that Yahoo senders, for example, will still be able to even use discussion lists. But until then, well, it’s quite the kerfuffle. I’m really not sure how or when it will all finally shake out.
That’s it for another week! I do the Ask Leo! Answercast every week so if you have a question about your computer the internet, or technology, head on out to askleo.com to search for your answer or to ask your question. You might hear it answered here in a future Answercast.
I also put out a newsletter every week. The Ask Leo! newsletter includes answers and fixes, and safety tips, and opinions, and even the occasional answer as to why things are the way they are. In addition, I also publish several books. Go have a look at askleobooks.com to see the latest on backing up, maintaining your computer and more.
Please back up! You know I plug this every week and I get almost tired of it myself but it’s so incredibly important. Nothing and I really mean nothing can save you from almost any disaster, like a proper and recent backup.
Please be aware, all of my answers they are are based on my own personal experience and should be used entirely at your own risk. As much as we really want it to be otherwise, I just don’t know you, your abilities, or the specifics of your machine and those of details can makes a huge difference.
The Ask Leo! Answercast is a production of Ask Leo! and is copyright 2014. Thanks for listening. I’m Leo Notenboom and I’ll be back soon with another Ask Leo! Answercast.