You MacBook Pro is not old enough to drink

3 05 2013

“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men  / Gang aft a-gley.” – Robby Burns (Scottish Poet)

You can say that again!

And by “that” – I mean no one ever really plans to pour a drink into their computer while working under deadline. It lets the smoke out of the computer, and is technically “alcohol abuse.”

But, sometimes, that just happens.

So I thought I’d tell you, as a volunteer participant in Microsoft’s SkyDrive Insider’s program, how using a little pre-planning a long time ago paid off. We were able to recover my wife’s important documents, email, contacts, etc. in about 10 minutes. The best part was that she could continue her work staging of the World Premier of her adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion at the San Jose Stage Company.

What follows may seem like a lot of prerequisites

True… however, here is how the situation played out in real life:

I was driving home from rehearsal – listening to a podcast. My phone reads a text message to me:

“@*&^%!  #&*^! I just spilled a beer on my computer!”

Which, was robotically funny… but started the gears turning. “What are we going to do? How much was this going to cost? Was the data all gone? I wonder if the documents were saved?”

Answer: The computer itself was mostly dead. The time was about 10 minutes to get working again.

The cost… well… that’s up to you.

Here’s how the preparation paid off:

  • Make sure you have a full Time Machine backup somewhere on an external drive
    • Crashplan.com might be an alternative – I don’t know for certain
  • Install the SkyDrive for OS X on the Mac, and drop a shortcut to its folder over on Finder
    • Start saving documents over there
    • Make sure it is running periodically (sometimes passwords in the Keychain get screwed up)
  • Install SkyDrive on other devices (iPads, Android, iPhones, etc.) so it reinforces the value of saving documents here
  • If you use your own “domain” for email – consider hosting emails / contacts and calendars in Live
    • Go to http://domains.live.com
    • Create your account there
    • Create an identity there (your name @ yourdomain.com)
    • Configure your DNS information at your DNS provider etc.
    • You could do this at Google too – but you’ll see why this is interesting in a minute
  • Set up your iPhone / Android etc. to use this via Exchange ActiveSync
    • It should be “Automatic” if you select “Exchange”
    • But you may have to follow some instructions
    • I’ll go into why you’d do this later…
  • If you’re using Outlook 2011 on the Mac + Live / Outlook.com
    • Use mBox Mail for Mac to get access to folders
    • It’s not perfect, but it’s not POP3 either
  • You can export contacts periodically from Outlook.com to a CSV and import them into Outlook 2011 and map them

How we temporarily reconstituted her digital life

    1. I had a spare laptop that had Windows 8 Pro installed on it
    2. I created an account for her on the computer using “Windows Live ID”
      1. This is her primary email address + contacts + calendar + SkyDrive (where her iPhone syncs)
    3. Afterward, Windows 8’s Mail app downloaded her email – which I set to download “All email”
      1. I hooked in the rest of her email accounts
      2. I had Windows Live Essentials 2012 installed – but did not configure them yet (just in case)
    4. Installed her scriptwriting software
      1. I installed the Desktop SkyDrive app because the scriptwriting software did not understand the “path” structure to her script from the Windows Store version of the SkyDrive app.
    5. And… because one important document was in “Pages” – the iWork format
      1. We downloaded the attachment
      2. Renamed its extension to “.zip”
      3. Opened it
      4. Found a “Preview.PDF” of the document
      5. And we were able to open this in Word 2013 for comment (a new feature)

Done.

What if we didn’t have a laptop? Well, logging into SkyDrive or Outlook.com would have let us at least get access to email and her files. Her script software has a cloud-based edition, and we could have uploaded the current draft, and she could have continued on my computer until the next morning.

What we didn’t have at that point

Here are the “points of failure” where you are NOT protected from “platform dependency” in case your computer decides to drink a beer…

  • iPhoto and Aperture
    • These applications can store all your photos in a SINGLE database that is basically inaccessible by anything except another Mac. Yes there are hacks, but they usually involve having an operational Mac.
    • I was just about to tackle this problem (about 1 week away from fixing this)… d’oh.
  • iTunes and DRM music / video
    • We didn’t have this problem – but if you do have a lot of purchases, de-authorizing computers can be a hassle
    • Basically – ecosystem neutrality is the way to go now.
  • iCloud & Google’s ecosystem for your mobile systems
    • If you use “non-iWork” files, you are NOT protected in case of disaster if you rely on iCloud
      • You can’t put your iCloud contacts on your Android (easily)
    • GDrive doesn’t protect you very well either because they are only just now introducing offline mode
    • Google is also playing around with cancelling CalDAV support for some developers and has cancelled Exchange ActiveSync support

So if you are considering having a multiple device household where you want to have an Android tablet (and maybe a Kindle Fire HD someday – SkyDrive does not exist out of the box right now), an iPhone, and a Mac or PC, then the “ecosystem story” is a little complicated.

Microsoft’s Outlook.com, Live Domains, SkyDrive, and Amazon’s Music service and cloud player can get you pretty far into a “device” and “beer-proof” strategy.

Incidentally, I was able to wake her MacBook Pro up once, get a final Time Machine backup out of it. It then went into a final resting place… we replaced it with another Apple product but reconstituted it in largely the same way.

The most irritating part of this story is the Outlook 2011 + Hotmail / Live / Outlook.com piece. It is frustrating and kludgy. The desktop-mail story for the Mac is not a good one.

However, the best part of this story is how well the play went.

You can follow the further adventures of Persuasion over here!

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One response

3 05 2013
Chad Chisholm

Or you can use a Beer sippy cup, like my toddlers do. They are lightweights. http://www.cafepress.com/+keep_calm_and_drink_beer_sippy_cup,652053214

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