In this video I answer a question about how to estimate something that you don’t know how to do yet.
With the holidays around the corner, I thought it would be a good time to do another round-up of what I think are some of the best gifts for software developers, programmers and other technology geeks for this year.
As you know, it can be very difficult to buy gifts for software developers, because, well, software developers tend to have very specific tastes in gifts.
So, that here is where I am going to help you out:
If you are looking for a gift for a software developer, programmer or other technology aficionado, you’ve come to the right place.
If you are a software developer yourself, just pass this link on to those gift-givers who are tasked with giving you gifts this holiday season–or, just buy these things for yourself, like I know you are going to do anyway.
I tried to include only new stuff this year or at least updated versions of anything I included last year, but many of the gifts from last year are still relevant.
Samsung 850 Pro SSD Drive
Buying an SSD can be difficult, but this holiday season it is easy.
This SSD drive is clearly the big winner in terms of speed and price. You really can’t go wrong with this. Plus, it comes with a free copy of Assassin’s Creed Unity.
I have one of these drives myself and it is blazing fast. I can’t believe how cheap a price for what is basically the best SSD on the market.
There are a few choices though:
I’d recommend either going with the 256 GB or the 512 GB as both are an excellent value. I find the 256 GB to be plenty of space for me, but I know some developers might prefer to have 512.
Also, the software Samsung includes makes it a snap to move your hard drive over to this new SSD drive. I was up and running in less than 30 minutes.
I can’t even tell you how awesome the Kindle Voyage is. I charged my Voyage before going on over a 10 hour flight and after I came back a week later, I still had more than half of my battery life.
The Voyage is extremely light and actually fits right in my pocket.
I used to read books off of my iPad Mini or Android phone, but I am so glad I switched to the Kindle Voyage. Now I can actually read in daylight, which means I can read in a lot more enjoyable places.
Moto 360 Smartwatch for Android
So, I don’t actually have one of these, but I definitely want one.
The Moto 360 seems to be the clear winner in the Android Smartwatch space.
My only hesitation in getting one is that I am not sure if I am going to stick with my Android phone or switch to an iPhone 6 Plus.
This watch is pretty awesome though. It looks very sleek and has all the functionality of the Androidwear platform. Plus, it does all the fitness tracking things as well, including heart rate.
Very tempted to buy this one as well. Right now, the Microsoft Band looks like it is the ultimate fitness band. It seems to have the most features and works with Windows Phones, iOS and Android.
I can’t figure out why Amazon isn’t selling this. It appears you have to get it directly through Microsoft–at least for now.
I am super excited about the Battery Box. In fact, I just pre-ordered one.
The Battery box is a very small external battery / charger that will basically give you an extra 6 hours of battery life on your MacBook Pro or 12 hours on your MacBook Air and it can give you basically like 80 hours for your iPhone or Android phone.
It’s also small and reasonably price. I have a feeling I am going to use this thing quite a bit–especially when travelling.
I’ll be glad to throw out all those little iPhone chargers I have and just carry around this one small Battery Box. The best part is that it is really small. I’m almost tempted to get two.
Seiki 4K Monitor (TV)
I am currently sitting at my desk staring at two Seiki 4K Monitors.
It is wonderful to have this much screen real estate. I already reviewed my original purchase of the Seiki SE39UY04 39-Inch 4K Ultra HD monitor, but I mention it again here, because it is still such a good deal.
One of the best values dollar-for-dollar I’ve ever gotten on a tech item.
The monitor has the same resolution as four 1080p monitors. I highly recommend it. Check out my full review for more details.
Ok, I know I had the Audio-Technica ATH-M50s on the list last year, but I’ve been using mine a lot this year and they’ve become my primary headphones that I take with me everywhere.
They are that good.
It is really difficult to beat the price to quality ratio of these headphones. They sound great and they don’t cost a fortune.
Sure, you can buy better sounding headsets, but for the price, this is by far the best headset you can get. They are as good as headsets that cost two-to-three times as much.
iPhone 6 Plus
This is a bit of a strange one, but I put it on this list simply because I think this device can actually consolidate two devices.
I am waiting for my contract to come up, but I am planning on getting an iPhone 6 Plus and getting rid of my Android phone and iPad Mini.
I know some people have said it is too big, but to me it is the perfect sized device. Why? Because it is basically a retina iPad Mini that is also a phone. I love the idea of having one device be able to replace two devices I already have.
Betrlyfe 3 in 1 Premium Flat Braided Charging Cable
I didn’t even realize this 3 in 1 charge cable existed, but it is extremely useful. I am thinking about getting a few more.
I was going around carrying multiple different cables when I traveled, so that I could charge different devices. But, this simple cable is all I need now. Very happy to have found this. And this premium version is just the right price for a gift.
Nespresso Inissia Espresso Maker
I don’t know how I didn’t know these things existed until now.
I was at the mall the other night and they were doing samples from a Nespresso machine. I was blown away. A real, good espresso that is simple to make and not super expensive?
Software developers love caffeine and this is basically a caffeine machine.
There are some higher end models as well, but this one seems to have really good reviews.
Anything I left out?
Well, that is my list for this year. I tried to post it earlier this year, so you actually have time to get some of this stuff as gifts.
If anything really good comes out that I missed, I’ll probably update this list, so check back in a week or two.
Also, do you have anything that I should definitely include on this list?
And, if you want to be notified if I update this list or have any other holiday gift suggestions for programmers, join the Simple Programmer community and you’ll get emails with my posts and other helpful tips every week.
In this video, I review the book “The Obstacle Is They Way” by Ryan Holiday.
I already know your biggest problem.
Because, I have that same problem and so do millions of other people across the globe.
To quote the internets, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
I don’t know a more true statement in all of history.
It seems that no matter how much time we have, it’s never enough.
It seems the perfect excuse for any situation is simply that we don’t have time.
But, it’s not true. We actually have enough time. In fact, in most cases, we have plenty of time. We just have trouble realizing it.
Why we think we don’t have enough time
There are two main reasons why we think we don’t have enough time.
First, we waste a large amount of time. And, second, we don’t use the time we have wisely.
To sum it up, we procrastinate and watch too much TV.
This may seem like a joke, but I’m dead serious.
If you think you don’t have enough time, it’s probably because you are wasting a big chunk of your day each day doing something completely unproductive, like watching TV, or it’s because when you do sit down to work, you spend more time procrastinating instead of actually getting what you need to do done.
I’ve ranted before on the dangers of watching TV. I don’t watch any TV myself and very rarely even watch a movie. But, it’s not just TV that is the problem. I pick on TV, because it is easy to pick on. Most people would get back two-to-four hours a day if they just quit watching TV—more than enough time to do whatever it is you claim to not have enough time for.
The real problem is anything that is taking your time, but not giving you anything in return. I’m not saying that you should spend all your time working, but what I am saying is that whatever activity you are doing with your time, you should be getting some tangible benefit from it.
But TV relaxes me, you say. Really? Does it? I mean yes, it feels good to plop down in front of the TV and laugh at some silly sitcom character’s latest plight, but does it really relax you so much that you get more time out of it than what you put into it?
What I mean by this is that if you stopped watching TV, and instead did something else with your time, do you honestly think you’d be less productive at everything else you did, because you were not as “relaxed?”
I keep picking on TV, but maybe your waste of time is playing World of Warcraft online, playing on social networks, reading the news, or even spending an inordinate amount of time going through some ritual to get ready for work in the morning.
Figuring out where your time is going
Your first step on your quest to reclaiming your time is to track it.
Look, I’m going to be honest with you here. This part isn’t going to be fun and you are not going to want to do it correctly, but if you really want to know where your time is going, you are going to have to start tracking it—at least temporarily.
Here is what I want you to do:
First, make a sketch of where you think your time is going. Pull out a piece of paper, or print out a sheet from a daily time planner and chart exactly where you think you spend your time during the day.
Make this chart pretty detailed. If you think you get up at 7:00 AM, put that down. Put down how long it takes you to get ready for work and what time you are out the door. Put how long it takes you to “settle in.” Put how long you work. How long you take for lunch. Put it all down and chart it on a 24 hour timeline.
Now, just looking at this “sketch,” you’ll probably already have a good idea of where you are wasting your time. But, here is the clincher: It’s not even accurate.
So, here is what you do next:
After you have your chart of how you think you spend your day, get another blank schedule and carry it around with you for at least three days. Plot exactly how you spend your day.
Yes, this is tedious. Yes, you won’t want to do it, but do it anyway. Track exactly how long it takes you to eat lunch—just don’t show your boss. Track exactly how long it takes you to “settle in.” (Again, you might not want to show your boss that one either.) And, don’t forget that TV time.
Ok, so once you’ve done this you’ll have two things:
- How you think you spend your time
- How you actually spend your time
Now, the only thing you are missing is…
How you actually want to spend your time
The next, step—and you may have guessed it already—is to chart how you’d actually like to spend your time each day. What is your ideal schedule?
Using the information about how you are actually spending your day and how you thought you were spending your day, you should be able to come up with an ideal division of your time for a typical day.
You might end up having a few different schedules for different days of the week, but this is the first step to actually taking back control of your time—and your life.
Think about it this way: You probably know where you are spending your money. Well, let me take that back. If you are financially responsible, you know where you are spending your money. If you aren’t financially responsible, you at least have to make a conscious effort to spend money—it doesn’t happen automatically. You usually have to pull out a card or some cash.
Spending time though, seems to have no cost associated with it. If you feel like you don’t have enough time, it’s not because you are actually living in time-proverty, it’s because you are not actually aware of how you are spending it. You need a time budget.
Now, let me say this right off the bat: You are not going to perfectly live your pre-planned schedule. That is ok. You don’t have to, you just have to be close.
You aren’t going to be able to change everything overnight. The reason you spend your time like you do is because of the ingrained habit that you’ve formed over years or even decades. It takes time to develop new habits to replace old ones.
So, you are going to have to go through a bit of a transition period, while you recalibrate your schedule from the default way you are currently spending—wasting—your time, to the new budgeted schedule of how you want to spend your time.
You’ll probably find that you actually have time to do the things you claimed you didn’t have time to do—now that you’ve actually planned them into your schedule.
If you still find that you don’t have enough time to do what you want to do, you’ll really have to question whether or not you really want to do it, or if you are even trying to do too much.
It’s all about priorities
The whole point of this exercise—of this blog post—is to make you realize that time management is all about priorities.
What I mean to say by this is not that your priorities determine how you spend your time, but rather that how you spend your time shows you what your priorities currently are.
You have to understand your current priorities in order to create new ones or to lower the value of current ones.
By tracking how you are actually spending your time, you are learning about your current priorities.
By projecting how you think you are spending your time, you are indicating what you think your current priorities are.
By actually scheduling your time, you are setting your priorities.
So, if you do all this and still don’t have enough time to learn how to cook, get your degree, get a better job, start that side project, or even start a blog, it’s not really because you don’t have enough time, it’s because you choose to spend your time somewhere else.
(Also, if you are interested in more about this topic, I recommend the book: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time)
But, didn’t you say something about not using time wisely?
So, we’ve only really solved half of the problem here.
Remember how I said there were two main problems? That not only were you wasting a large amount of time, but you also weren’t using that time wisely?
We’ve already covered wasting time. If you are allocating the time in your day how you would like to allocate it, time is no longer being wasted. You are using your time exactly how you want to be using it.
To be clear, this could include watching TV or playing video games. As long as you have made a conscious decision of how you want to be spending your time and that is how you are doing it, you aren’t wasting that time at all. (You might not be meeting your objectives in life, or accomplishing what you want to accomplish, but at least you are making the conscious choice to do so—not blaming it on the lame excuse of not having enough time.)
Now, about using time wisely.
This really boils down to productivity and procrastination.
If you’ve already budgeted your time, the only other thing you can do to get back more time is to reduce the time budgeted things take.
If you lollygag your way through getting ready for work in the morning and something that should take you one hour takes you two hours, you are not using your time wisely. I won’t say wasted, because you planned out that time, so it’s not truly wasted, but you could have accomplished the same goal in a lot less time.
The same goes with “settling in for work,” or even getting a task done at work. The more you procrastinate and choose to use your time in an unwise manor, the longer you have to allocate for the various things you are doing.
But I can’t cut down my nine-to-five, so why bother
Now, you may say, well John, that is nice and all, but I have to be at my desk from 9:00 AM until 5:00 PM, what difference does it make if I use that time “unwisely” or not?
It might not make that much of a difference to your paycheck, but it might make a whole lot of difference to your bottom line and your career.
If you can accomplish more work and learn more things during your nine-to-five, over time this is going to add up to a huge benefit.
Besides, not everything falls into that nine-to-five category, and even though most employers would probably frown on it, wouldn’t it be better to spend time working on some side-project or personal development project than browsing Facebook?
Let’s be honest here. We all waste time at work. At the very least we could waste that time in a productive manner.
Getting serious about lost time
I get most of my blog posts done in under two hours. It literally takes me less than two actual hours from when I sit down to write the blog post until it is scheduled and ready to go.
That might seem like a lot of time, but considering that many of my blog posts are around 2,000-3,000 words and contain a bunch of images and links, that is a pretty short amount of time.
The secret to how I get my blog posts done so quickly each week is that when I sit down to write a blog post, I sit down and actually write it. I don’t sit and ponder the subject for an hour, forget what I was doing and check Facebook or my email. I don’t write a little and then go grab a snack. I sit down and I write until I am done.
I make an efficient use of my time.
You should apply this kind of work-ethic to everything you are doing if you really want to maximize your time.
It’s not for the faint of heart though. When I first started using the Pomodoro technique and actually focusing on making the most of my time and not procrastinating, it took a lot out of me. I did not expect how exhausting it would be.
For a detailed account of how I plan my week, check out my YouTube video.
And to learn more about how I use the Pomodoro technique, you might want to check out my book “Soft Skills: The Developer’s life manual.”
The point is: there is a lot of hidden lost time in the tasks that you are doing that you aren’t doing very efficiently. If it took me four hours to write a blog post instead of two, I’d get a lot less done each day. I’ve have to choose some things I couldn’t get done.
Summing it all up
Ok, so to sum it all up, if you think you don’t have enough time and you want to get back more of your time, here is what you need to do:
First, go through the process of charting how you think you spend your time, how you actually spend your time and how you want to spend your time.
Once you do this, you’ll shift your priorities and hopefully get rid of some big time wasters that are taking up time you’d rather be using somewhere else.
This should be the single biggest way you find more time. It may involve dropping some things that turn out not to be that important, but at least you’ll be making a conscious choice.
If you still don’t have enough time, the only other place to squeeze time from is tasks you are already doing.
If you can do things more efficiently and use your time more wisely, you’ll get a lot more done and have a lot more time on your hands.
Try to find one or two things you do in your day that take up a large amount of time and see if you can cut them in half or at least reduce them by a third.
All the bonus time you get from implementing these techniques you can allocate to other things you want to be doing, but just haven’t had enough time for.
It’s time to stop using that old excuse of not having enough time and to actually do something and make it so you do.
If you liked this post and would like to hear more of what I have to say, join the Simple Progammer community and get blog posts like these, inspirational videos, tutorials and more directly in your inbox—all for free. I won’t spam you, but I will try and motivate you.
In this video, I go over the Chrome Plugins and other non-developer apps I use regularly.
Backing up your data is really important.
We’ve all heard too many stories of hard drives crashing or computers getting lost or stolen without having a backup and their owner’s suffering a horrible loss of irreplaceable data.
So, if we all know that backing up data is so important, why don’t we do it?
Well, some of us do, but I know that a majority of software developers I talk to are either not really doing good backups at all or are doing what I would call a half-ass job.
The reason for this is simple: Coming up with a good backup solution is difficult–or at least it can appear that way.
That’s why I am writing this blog post. I want to make it as simple as possible.
I’m going to show you a simple approach to create a backup strategy–not just a solution–that you can easily implement.
The basic approach will be as follows:
- Reduce the amount of “stuff” that needs to be backed up
- Divide backed up data into two categories: critical and non-critical
- Have three copies of data, two local and one offsite
- Make everything automated
Step 1: Reducing the amount of “stuff” that needs to be backed up
The easiest way to simplify your backup solution is to start by reducing the amount of stuff that you need to backup. The less you have to backup, the easier it will be to manage those backups and to actually do the backups themselves.
What we want to do is go through all the data that we think we need to backup and try to get rid of as much of it as possible.
Most people I know, especially software developers and IT people, are storing all kinds of stuff that they will never need.
I used to rip all kinds of movies, video games and music to my computer and save them in a huge library so that I would have access to all this stuff digitally if I ever needed it.
Guess how often I actually needed some random movie I already watched, a video game I already beat or a book I already read?
Just about never.
Now, I realize that some people actually do use their huge libraries of media. For example, kid movies often get watched multiple times, but you have to admit that there is probably a lot of stuff that you will never ever touch again.
I tried to purge as much stuff that I know I will never likely touch again as possible.
I know you might be resistant to doing this, but let me try and convince you that this is a good idea, then you can ignore me and back it all up if you want to.
First of all, think about how easy it is to rent digital content on demand today or buy something off of Amazon or Ebay. Do you really need to store a copy of “A Night at the Roxbury?” Probably not, if you ever want to watch it again, just pay a few bucks and get it here.
If you watch a lot of movies, you’ll be much better off having a subscription to Netflix than you will trying to store a copy of every movie you’ve ever had your hands on. Think about how many hours you are wasting ripping movies to disk and meticulously organizing them. How many of those movies do you actually watch?
The same goes for music, books and video games. Most things only get consumed once. Get rid of as much of this stuff as possible. You’ll not only stop wasting time storing all this stuff, but your backups will be easier and you will find that a huge mental load is lifted from you.
Even huge music collections are mostly a waste of time. There are multiple music services you can subscribe to that will give you access to just about any music you want for a low monthly fee.
Plus, this trend is only going to increase. More and more stuff is going to be available from the cloud, on demand, for a small rental fee or monthly charge.
Stop saving all that crap.
Step 2: Divide backed up data into two categories: critical and non-critical
Backing up one terabyte of data to the cloud takes a long time and it can be expensive–that is why most people don’t do it.
So, what do you end up with?
Well, if you are like most people, you end up having some kind of local backup and you don’t really have a good cloud or offsite backup in place. It’s just too much trouble to try and backup all that data to the cloud.
If you followed my first step, you should be well on your way to reducing your total data that you need to backup, but we can do much better and get that data to an even smaller amount.
Instead of trying to backup everything to the cloud or offsite, if you focus on backing up just what is critical, you’ll find that it is much more manageable and you won’t need gigabit internet to back everything up.
Take all the data that you want to backup and sort it into two categories: critical and non-critical.
Critical things are things that if you ever lost them, you would be very sad, because they couldn’t be replaced or would cause you some great harm.
A good example of critical data for me is my wife’s photos. If I lost my wife’s photos, I would probably need to find a new wife.
Other critical data for me is current projects I am working on and past projects that I may need to access again at some point in the future.
My Pluralsight courses and other training courses are critical data. My source code for my applications is critical data.
The opposite of critical data is non-critical data–duh.
But what is non-critical data?
It’s data that would suck to lose, but would not be the end of the world. Perhaps data that would be a small inconvenience to you to lose, but could be replaced.
Collections of movies, video games and music fall into this category. Yes, you’ll be disappointed if you lose this data, but you can replace that data even if it might cost you some money.
Now, before you get all uppity about your movie collection, remember, I’m not saying we aren’t going to backup your non-critical data–we will–it’s just that we aren’t going to back this data up to the cloud or offsite.
Other non-critical data might be an image of your computer or development workstation. If you lose that backup, you might have to re-install your operating system or waste some time re-installing other programs, but it won’t be that big of a deal.
Most of your data should be non-critical. Unless, of course, you got rid of a large amount of that data, because you realized the futility of storing digital copies of stuff you won’t ever use again. But, if I haven’t convinced you by now, I probably never will, so we’ll just call your “The Complete Matrix Trilogy (The Matrix / The Matrix Reloaded / The Matrix Revolutions) [Blu-ray]” non-critical data.
Step 3: Have three copies of data, two local and one offsite
Ok, now we are actually ready to back things up.
Most likely, you’ll have a small amount of critical data and either a larger amount of non-critical data or almost none.
The critical data we don’t ever want to lose. So, we need to make sure that there are three copies of that data at all times.
The easiest way to do this is to have:
- one working copy
- one local backup
- and one cloud backup
Today, this is actually quite simple to achieve.
For awhile I was doing this by using a service like CrashPlan. Crash plan allows you to specify folders on a computer to backup to another location and to specify some folders to be backed up to the CrashPlan cloud servers as well.
I was creating two backup sets. One that backed up my critical data to another hard drive in my computer and another backup that backed up to CrashPlan’s servers.
This worked well for a while, but then I realized that I didn’t really need to pay CrashPlan’s monthly fee when I was already paying for extra storage space with Dropbox and also that I wanted to have a central place to backup data locally and not just back up from my one PC. My wife has data she needs to backup and I have a laptop and other devices as well.
Now, don’t get me wrong, CrashPlan is great. I highly recommend it, but if you have a NAS (Network Attached Storage) and an account with either Dropbox or OneDrive, you might not really need to utilize a service like CrashPlan.
But, before I get into the specifics of what I am doing, let’s talk about the strategy one more time.
We want to have three copies of our data. One working copy, one local backup and one offsite backup.
There are many ways to accomplish this; the easiest way is to have a cloud storage solution like Dropbox or OneDrive as an offsite backup and then to figure out some way to have a local backup as well.
The reason why we want an offsite backup and a local backup is so that we are covered in two possible scenarios:
- Your local backup fails and when you go to recover your data you discover this problem. In that case you can just get the data from the cloud.
- Your cloud backup either fails, goes out of business or loses your data. In this case, you can use your local backup to recover your data and move your offsite backup to another service.
If you just put your data in the cloud, it isn’t good enough, because you are relying completely on someone else’s service that you can’t control.
If you just locally back up your data, it isn’t good enough, because you could have a fire and your entire house could burn down, or you could be robbed, or your backup could just fail and you not know it.
How I’m backing up my critical data
So, how am I actually backing up my critical data now that I’ve gotten rid of my CrashPlan subscription?
Well, I invested in a Synology NAS, or network attached storage.
I bought a Synology DiskStation 2-Bay (Diskless) Network Attached Storage (DS213j) which I have attached directly to my network.
It allows any computer in my network to use it as a file server and it runs its own little operating system that can do all kinds of neat things like backup my data to Dropbox or even Amazon Glacier.
There are two big advantages of this kind of device versus having some hard drives in my computer that I am using to create a copy of data:
- The data is accessible by all the computers and devices in my house easily. I don’t have to have my main PC on and connected to the network.
- The Synology devices very easily do a RAID style storage. So, I can have two hard disks in there and if one of them fails, the other one still has all the data.
A distant third, for me, would be that the Synology box can act as a full media server. I don’t use that functionality that much, but I know some people with huge movie collections do.
The big key point for my solution is that the Synology device creates a very good redundant RAID. In my book that counts as two copies of local data.
I just attach my Synology box as a network drive on my computers and devices and I store any data that I want to make sure is backed up there.
Synology has a service you can install that hooks up your device with your Dropbox account (OneDrive support coming really soon.) So, I just share out that Dropbox folder on my Synology drive out to my network and I can drop any files I want backed up in that share and those files will not only be in double backup on the Synology drive, but also backed up to my Dropbox account in the cloud.
My wife can also do the same, so this is very convenient.
I also don’t even worry about having a local copy of a backup on my computer anymore, because I know that the data in the Synology drive is backed up on two hard drives and in the cloud.
How I’m backing up my non-critical data?
What about the non-critical data?
Simple. I just copy that to a share on the Synology device that isn’t backed up to the Dropbox account.
For example, right now, the only thing I really have that I am considering non-critical data is images of my computers. I just put those on a share on the Synology and I don’t worry about them.
Why not just use a backup service like CrashPlan or Mozy?
Again, this whole thing could be done with a backup service like CrashPlan, but if I am already going to have a Dropbox account that I use, I don’t see the point of paying for and managing another backup system.
In fact, I am probably going to switch over to OneDrive exclusively, because Microsoft just recently announced that Office 365 users get unlimited OneDrive storage.
If you want to use a backup service though, go ahead. Just make sure you have a local backup and a cloud based backup for your critical data.
Step 4: Make everything automated (and test it)
If you followed my backup plan or you are using a service like CrashPlan, then you probably don’t need to do much here, because everything is already automated.
CrashPlan automatically backs up the data on your computer as it changes, so you don’t really have to worry there.
And, if you are using a NAS and a service like Dropbox, that is automated as well, because you basically just drop files into the Dropbox folder on your NAS and it automatically syncs with Dropbox.
But, if you are doing something else, just make sure the entire process is automated. You might, for example, want to automate backing up images of your computer. Or you might want to automate getting photos off of your phone or camera and dropping them into a backup location.
Finally, make sure you test everything out.
A backup that has never been tested is worthless.
If you use a service like CrashPlan, try restoring data from it.
If your backup is going to be your Dropbox box and your NAS, test it out. Make sure you can retrieve any data that you need. If you are backing up databases or snap-shotting PCs, make sure you can restore all of those backups, otherwise don’t bother backing them up in the first place.
Nothing is worse than trying to restore a backup and finding out that it was no good or wasn’t working.
Are you backing up your data?
Let me know in the comments below.
And, if you liked this post and found it helpful, join the Simple Programmer community so that I can stay in touch and let you know when I have new posts or other free content you might be interested in.
Also, if you have some other suggestions or think there is something I missed or didn’t consider, leave a comment and let me know.
I remember spending countless hours reloading from save spots and trying to figure out a puzzle. I remember that exciting feeling of anticipation when the Sierra logo flashed onto the screen as my 486 was loading up an adventure game.
It was a golden age of computer gaming that we’ll probably never see again.
In a bit of a fit of nostalgia, I decided to do a bit of searching on Sierra Online. I was curious to find out what happened to the company and what happened the founders, Ken and Roberta Williams.
What happened to Sierra Online
But, first let’s talk about what happened to Sierra Online. Why did they stop pumping out awesome adventure games?
Sierra Online started out when Ken Williams, a programmer at IBM, got an Apple II computer and his wife, Roberta, who was playing text adventure games, realized that adventure games would be a lot better if there were some graphics included with them.
Roberta realized the Apple II was more than capable of displaying graphics for a text adventure game, so she embarked on a quest to make her own text adventure game, complete with some static graphics.
Ken helped Roberta put together her first game, Mystery House, during the evenings while holding down a job at IBM.
The game turned out to be quite successful, selling over 15,000 copies and making about $167,000. Not a bad start.
From there things really started to take off. Ken and Roberta were directly involved in creating most of the early Sierra games. They got a big opportunity when IBM basically hired them to create the first King’s Quest game, offering to fund the entire game, advertise for it and pay them royalties. Not a bad deal.
King’s Quest was very successful and as part of creating the game, which involved color graphics and sound, the Adventure Game Interpreter system was born, which was used to create many more Sierra adventure games.
From there many of the popular game series like Space Quest, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry and Quest for Glory were born. Ken and Roberta hired different programmers and designers to work on most of these games.
Eventually though, all good things must come to an end. In 1996, CUC International made an offer of about $1.5 billion dollars to purchase Sierra Online. Yeah, that’s right, I would have sold for that price as well. So you can’t really blame Ken or Roberta.
But, from that point forward, things seemed to really fall apart. Once Ken and Roberta left, Sierra just wasn’t Sierra anymore. More games were produced, but the great Adventure game era was over. The Gabriel Knight series did do pretty well and in 1998 Sierra did publish Half-life (although Valve created it.)
If you are interested in all the details, you can find most of them at the Wikipedia page, but I think what happened to Ken and Roberta is a bit more interesting.
What happened to Ken and Roberta
My first clue was the letter that Ken had posted on SierraGamers.com which was written in 2003.
In the letter Ken talks about how he and Roberta created and owned Sierra from 1979 through 1996. When they sold the company, they decided to retire, dividing their time between Mexico (Cabo San Lucas,) Seattle and France.
Once of the things I found fascinating though, is that Ken said that:
Most of my days are spent playing golf, and other than this website I haven’t thought about Sierra or computer games for a long time.
I was shocked to think that perhaps I spend more time thinking about Sierra games than Ken does. Somehow in my head, I couldn’t imagine that the creators of Sierra Online would not be involved in video games in some way. The idea just seemed too foreign to me. This really got me curious.
In the letter Ken goes on to talk a bit more about Sierra’s history and how it is all of our history. He mentions that Sierra just happened to be coming along at the right time in history as computers were really starting to take hold in society. He also says that he doesn’t really have the talent, or intention to write a book on that history.
Looking through the site was a strange experience. The letter is, of course, 10 years old at this point and the site is visibly dated. There were a few new messages on the forum though and the list of Sierra games with some pictures of the game boxes was very interesting. There were definitely a few titles in there I had forgotten about and that I didn’t even realize were produced by Sierra.
Heading over to the FAQ section of the site, I found a link to Ken’s personal blog. Being the nosy person that I am, I had to check it out.
Sailing the world!
It turns out Ken and Roberta have been sailing the world. They sailed across the Atlantic in 2004 and the Pacific in 2009. Ken, also created a new company that helps you create your own websites called “TalkSpot.” (Although, looking at the blog from the website, I saw the latest entry was from January of 2014, so I’m not sure how alive the company is.)
Looking through Ken’s blog, I could see that they were still sailing around the world having adventures. That is a long time to be sailing. I was amazed to see the intricate blog posts detailing all parts of the adventures they were having, including getting their place in Cabo San Lucas wrecked by the category 4 hurricane that just went through there.
It was fascinating to read Ken’s blog posts detailing their sailing adventures. It was interesting to see how two people who must have dedicated their lives to programming and computer games were now so far and disconnected from it. It’s weird; I think most of us live the same kind of life and are involved in the same kinds of things for most of our lives. To think about how someone’s life could be so completely different from what it was and how a person’s focus could be so dramatically changed, fascinates me.
Will I always be a programmer? Will I, at some point, not even have anything to do with software development? I don’t know, but it is interesting to think about it.
And the thing is, you can really tell he cares about what he is doing now by the detail of his posts and all the images he includes with them.
I don’t know about you, but it just is kind of odd and magical to think that the creator of Sierra Online, one of the people responsible for some of the best computer games I played as a kid, is writing books about sailing; living a life completely different than what I would expect.
Oh, and if you are curious what kind of boat they sail, it is a Nordhaven 62. A reasonably priced Yacht that goes for somewhere between $1 – $2 million dollars, used. (As far as I can tell, although I’m not really much of a Yacht shopper.)
If you are interested, take a look at his blog posts, really interesting stuff.
What about the rest of the Sierra crew?
I was also a bit curious to find out what happened to some of the other people involved with Sierra. I was able to track down two designers / programmers who are still in the industry with some resurrected games that are / have come out.
Al was mainly responsible for creating Leisure Suit Larry. I’ve actually never played any of the games in the franchise–I was too young at the time and my parents weren’t budging on that one.
It turns out, a new Leisure Suit Larry game was actually Kickstarted and shipped–I’ll have to check it out.
Two Guys From Andromeda
But what about those two guys behind the Space Quest series? Space Quest was definitely my favorite of the Sierra properties.
Mark Crow and Scott Murphy, better known as the two guys from Andromeda actually started a Kickstarter to create a new Space Quest-like franchise, SpaceVenture.
Unfortunately, looking at their site, I don’t see many recent updates, but I am hopeful the game will actually be released. They even went as far as to start a podcast about the upcoming game.
The future of Sierra
There is some good news for the future though. It appears Sierra is making somewhat of a comeback. At the very least they are going to resurrect the King’s Quest franchise.
If you go the sierra.com, you’ll find a new intro trailer and some information about upcoming games, including King’s Quest.
How awesome would it be if all those old Sierra games continued on or there was a true revival in good adventure games? Maybe it wouldn’t be the same as it was back then, but I’m hopeful.
Well, that’s it for my trip down memory lane. A bit of a different blog post, this one, but I thought many of you who also played Sierra games would find it interesting.
If you’ve been thinking about getting the book, now is probably the last chance to get it at a discounted rate.
Just use the code: dotd091114au to the get discount on checkout.
I’ve been getting quite a few questions about the book, so I thought I’d answer them here:
Q.) Is this just a collection of the blog posts on this blog?
A.) No. The book is almost entirely new material. It is around 325 pages of text and even though it has some of the same topics as some blog posts on this blog, almost all of the material is completely new.
Q.) When will the actual final book be released?
A.) The final book is actually done. Or rather all the writing is done, but it still needs to be finalized and have a final round of proofreading. But, the anticipated date is for Dec of 2014. If you purchase the MEAP now, you’ll get early access to the book and also get the final released version.
Q.) Why should I purchase the MEAP?
A.) It shows my publisher, Manning, that there is a high level of interest in the book, which increases the size of the print run and distribution. You’ll also get access to the a large portion of the content right away and have a chance to contribute valuable feedback to the book. You also have the chance to pick up the book at a discounted rate (at least today you do.)
Q.) Can I get a free sample of the book content?
A.) Yes, just go here to read the first chapter for free. The first chapter will also tell you everything you need to know about what is in the book.
If you have any other questions, just hit the contact me form and ask them.
Just to let you know, I don’t have control over when Manning does sales on books, so my book might not be on sale again or at least not for a while, so now is a good time to get it at a discounted rate.
Even though specialization is important, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to open up as many doors as possible in your life.
Wow, this is a pretty exciting week for me.
I spent about four months working full-time on this book. That might not seem like a lot of time, but believe me, writing a book is no easy task.
This was easily one of the most difficult things I have ever done—it’s not easy to consistently write several thousand words a day.
I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I never wanted to write a purely technical book. I’ve always felt that technical books get outdated too quickly and aren’t very interesting or fun to write.
When Manning approached me about writing a book, it was the golden opportunity to write the kind of book that I’ve always wanted to write—the kind of book that I wished I had in my career as a software developer.
Soft Skills, is a totally different kind of book about software development, because it isn’t about software development at all—instead, it is about the software developer.
I wanted to write a book that approached a software developer’s life from a holistic viewpoint. What I mean by this is that instead of just focusing on career development or market yourself, the book should focus on just about all areas of a software developer’s life.
And that’s exactly what the book does. The book covers a wide array of topics, from career advice on to even fitness and finances. I tried to not hold anything back and to give away everything I knew about becoming a successful software developer in all areas of your life.
This isn’t the official launch of the book, just an early access preview. The official launch will either be at the end of the year or early next year. But, if you buy the book now, you’ll get access to all of the early content and the full book when it is published.
Oh, also, if you buy the book now and you are willing to give a review on Amazon when the book officially launches, I’ve got a special something for you. I’ll give more details when the official launch date approaches.
I also wanted to take a moment to thank all of you who read this blog and are part of the Simple Programmer community. Without the support and encouragement of many of you, this book wouldn’t have really been possible.
I sincerely hope this book is a book that helps you to not just get a better job, but to be happier and more productive in your career. My goal with Soft Skills was to create a book that would be applicable to all software developers, regardless of experience level, technology choice or anything else.