How I backup my data and secure my devices

Recently, my mom almost lost her iphone, without a backup. And I’ve been backing up my work files. It’s really terrible to lose everything on your computer because of hardware failure, or theft. And, in 2017, totally avoidable. Most of the things I’m mentioning below are free and easy. They will save you a ton of grief when the inevitable data loss occurs. You can probably set it all up in two hours.

Devices: I use a macbook pro and an iphone, and an OWC external hard drive. Most of these solutions will work for any device. For some device specific ones like icloud backup, android/windows will have an equivalent function. If you google “backup for android” or “time machine for windows” you should find the equivalent.

Backing up computer data

The general principle is to have a local backup and an offline backup. Here’s how I set this up.

Local backup: Time machine + external hard drive. This is very easy to setup on a mac.

  1. Acquire an external hard drive. I use OWC drives, and love them:
  2. Plug your drive into your computer. Open time machine preferences in settings. Select the external hard drive as your backup location.
  3. You’re done! Just make sure to plug in the drive periodically.

Why do this? –> If your computer crashes, you can easily revert to a working version using time machine. This also works for file deletion. And if something goes wrong with your online backup, you at least have a copy.

Note: You may want to do other things with your drive apart from backups. In that case, you can partition the drive in two. You can do this in Disk Utility on your mac. Make sure the time machine backup drive is at least the size of your computer, and preferably 3x the size.

Online Backup – Backblaze: This is my favourite online backup service. It costs $5 per month, and backs up everything. If you buy the yearly plan, it only costs $50 per year.

  • Lose your computer?
  • Dump a bucket of water on your computer?
  • Burn your house down, and computer with it?

Backblaze has you covered. You can restore everything from its online file. Signup here:

Backblaze even backs up external drives, though you have to connect them once every 30 days. Backblaze slow? Go into the settings, uncheck “automatic throttling”, and increase the number of threads. This takes up more processing power, but it speeds up backup. I can backup about 150 GB per day, if not more.

Online Syncing – Dropbox: Dropbox is wonderful. It feels like it’s part of the operating system, it syncs so smoothly. You can put your most important files in the Dropbox folder, and they’ll automatically sync to Dropbox’s servers. You can use them from multiple devices, and revert to previous versions.

It’s also free, up to a certain size limit. So you can put important documents here without paying anything. I use this for work though, so I have the $99 plan that gives me a terabyte of synced data.

This is a referral signup link that gets you free space, and gives me free space as well:

Iphone backup – iCloud + iTunes: There are two free ways to backups your iphone

  1. Go to icloud settings. Turn on online backup. You may need to purchase space to get a full backup, it’s about $1.50 per month. Why do this? It backs up automatically, which is great.
  2. When you plug in your iphone to your computer, you can manually do an iTunes backup. This is a bit more complete than an iCloud backup. The downside is you have to remember to do it. But it’s a good idea to do this periodically.

Theft obstruction

Laptop stolen? Nothing you can do, right? Actually, there’s a free tool that can do quite a bit for you. It’s called the Prey Project. It’s open source, so you can (within reason) trust it.

They changed their pricing to emphasize the paid plans, but if you look below those, there’s still a free plan here:

What does prey do? It installs an app to your computer or phone. And then if your phone is missing, you can report it as missing within Prey. Prey will then:

  1. Broadcast it’s location so you can track where your device is
  2. Start taking pictures of the user via the camera

It’s a good idea to have a guest account on your computer. This will let the thief log in, and allow prey to be activated. If the can’t use your computer, they might not connect to wifi.

Prey won’t stop a smart thief, but by the odds your device will be stolen by a dumb thief. Prey gives you excellent tools to go to the police with.

Password Security/Two factor authentication.

This is the big one. I have about 400 online accounts. This is higher than average, since I run a business. But I’m guessing you have at least 50 online accounts, and at least 10 of those are important (Facebook, email, bank, etc.)

And I’m guessing you repeat passwords and login emails across accounts. Which means that if your login info has been revealed in a breach, all of your accounts are compromised.

Further, your email is probably where all your password reset emails go. So if someone gets your email, they get everything.

What to do about this? Two things:

1. Password Manager

I like 1password. This lets you easily generate strong, unique passwords for each site, and then login with them easily. On an iphone you can use touchID with it, and instantly signin to most accounts.

If you use this, then it’s impossible for more than one of your sites to be compromised in a breach.

2. Two factor authentication

This adds a second layer to logins. When you log into a two factor service, you then need a second piece of information to login. Example:

  1. Log into email with password
  2. Email service then texts you a SMS code that you enter.
  3. Only then can you login.

This will prevent most hacks. All you need is to have your phone with you when logging in. In case you lose your phone, you can also generate backup codes. You can store these in your password manager – they let you login even without if you can no longer access your two factor codes.

SMS (text message) is the most common backup method. But while it’s good, it’s not the best method. Text messages can be intercepted. The best method is via a physical token, or an app such as Google Authenticator.

Google Authenticator is free. With this app, you generate codes that are simultaneously generated by the online service for authentication. To login, you open the app and enter the current code.

This is the best service to use for your email, which is the most important link in your security chain, since it controls password resets for everything else.

That’s all I can think of. I’m not a security expert, but I think this is a fairly good regime for someone not facing any specific security or dataloss threats.

Japanese resources

I’m learning Japanese, on day 44. Here are the resources I’m using.

At this point I know:

  • The Pimsleur material up to lesson 44
  • The Hiragana
  • A primary definition + how to write about 360 Kanji

Pimsleur Japanese

An excellent, excellent audio program. I’ve used this to learn Italian and Portuguese, and it’s going well for Japanese so far. There are 120 lessons, which is great – Pimsleur normally just has 90. I’ll note I’ve had to do many lessons twice in a day – the other languages were easier because I already spoke French and Spanish.

Note that Pimsleur has two very important conditions. It fails if you don’t follow those, and most people fail to follow them:

  1. Do it every day.
  2. Do it out loud.

Simple isn’t easy. You can do non-verbal activities like cooking while you do Pimsleur, but you must do the two conditions.

Pimsleur will feel slow until around lessons 80-90. Then you’ll astonish native speakers by being able to hold conversations.

You can find torrents, but the quality is spotty. I recommend buying the MP3’s:

Remembering the Kanji

I’m up to 360 Kanji, and it’s been pretty effortless. Known as RTK, Heisig’s method has you use imaginative stories to remember the Kanji. You start with basic components and use these to remember more complex forms.

You learn one key definition + how to draw the Kanji. Pronunciation comes later, in volume II. This may seem backwards, but it’s precisely by reducing the complexity of the task that RTK allows you to memorize Kanji far faster than you’re expected to be able to do so.

Amazon link:

Rememering the Kana

Same as above, except much shorter, this book lets you learn Hiragana and Katakana. It took me all of three hours to learn Hiragana using this method.

Of course, I had to practice before I could read and write them fluently – that’s still ongoing. But I knew them all that quickly. Apps for practicing are below.

Amazon link:

Apps: Skritter, Memrise, Imiwa?, Hiragana: Learn Japanese


I like this app for use with RTK. Skritter has RTK support build it. The stroke order recognition is training me to write correctly. I could use Anki, but I like the feedback this app offers. I use Skritter on my iphone and ipad. I try to use a stylus when possible.

Hochanh RTK app

This simple Github app is invaluable. It has a database of all Kanji used in RTK. Sometimes, I can’t really relate to a definition Heisig uses. If so, I’ll check here and see what alternate definitions have been proposed by members of Kanji Koohii, a forum thats uses RTK.


A dictionary. I don’t know too much about it yet, except it has excellent reviews. Crucially, on iphone you can use the traditional Chinese input to draw Kanji in order to search for them in this dictionary.

  1. General –> keyboards –> chinese traditional –> handwriting
  2. Select the keyboard, and draw the kanji in the app

Hiragana: Learn Japanese

I installed this on an old Android phone. It’s excellent for drilling Hiragana. I did this in order to solidify what I learned with Remembering the Kana.

I’d say I used it for 2-4 hours total? Then I was done with it.


I’ve just scratched the surface of what Memrise offers for japanese. I’m using a course that has written components for Pimsleur Japanese 1 and 2.

I recommend using these some time after the current lesson. You don’t want the written version to mess with your pronunciation. But once you have pronunciation down, I’ve found these help with long run memorization of Pimsleur material.

These courses have also been excellent Hiragana practice.


The Best Sherlock Holmes Edition, with Sidney Paget Illustrations

As a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes, I was intrigued by the image of the man himself. Sherlock has seen countless representations over the years. The original stories were published in the Strand magazine, and illustrated by Sidney Paget. I had read the original stories, but longed to see the illustrations that accompanied them.

Little did I know that an edition exists which contains all the original Strand stories, with the illustrations by Sidney Paget. It’s called The Original Illustrated Sherlock Holmes. It is a beautiful edition (buy it in print, the kindle formatting is not good). It’s hardcover – rather large, but easy enough to read and durable. The formatting is magazine size, and the illustrations are interspersed with the text. The typesetting is beautiful, and this book is a pleasure to read. Mr. Paget’s illustrations really add to the stories. The best part is that this book costs less than $10 on amazon. Every Sherlock Holmes fan should have this.

I’ve accompanied this book with an excellent guide to Holmes’ London: Sherlock Holmes in London, by Charles Viney. Mr. Viney painstakingly perused photographs of Victorian London to find the locales mentioned in each story, around the date of the story. They offer wonderful examples of architecture as Mr. Conan Doyle would have seen it while writing his stories.

This book is out of print, and unfortunately may be a bit hard to find. If you can’t get a hold of the original, you may be able to find the reprint: The Authentic World of Sherlock Holmes.



The importance of taking breaks + varying your work

I was away all August, and upon returning found I had an email backlog, and a messy house. I was also doing a lot of consulting, so I found it hard to find the time to take care of these things.

I just finished a very busy weekend where I taught a course in another city. I returned today, and found both of these weighed me down.

But, I was completely unable to deal with the email. I felt drained of energy, and wanted to go to bed. I realized I had been pushing myself too hard.

I made dinner, and watched a movie. After dinner, I put on some nice music, cleaned up a bit, and read a book. Now I feel very refreshed. I’m writing this down so I remember to take a break.

There’s no point in pushing yourself too far. You don’t get anything done, and you keep yourself drained of energy and potential. Varying the type of work you do can help though. I’ve had low level stress for a couple of weeks due to the mess in my apartment. Cleaning that replenished my energy, rather than drained it. And now I feel restored as I drink tea and read.

How To Take A Cold Shower (Or Do Anything You Don’t Want To Do)

I’ve gotten into the habit of taking cold showers. You feel instantly alert, and whenever I take regular cold showers, I lose fat. They’re really not bad once you’re in them.

So it must be easy for me to do, right? I’ve been doing this for a while now.

No! Getting into a cold shower is miserable. I hate it.

Let me clarify. I don’t mind cold showers, once I”m in them. But I can’t convince myself this is true, before I get in. Even though I’ve done it hundreds of times. My brain would rather I step into a scalding shower.

A lot of things in life are like this. It’s easy once we do it, but we don’t want to get started. We build up a big challenge, and talk ourselves out of it. We flinch.

I’ve found a good way to avoid this. I list the steps. Here are my steps for taking a cold shower. I say them out loud:

Step one: Open Shower Door

Step two: Turn on cold water

Step three: Step into cold water

Step four: Ask myself “Is this the thing that I feared?”

That last step is from Seneca. One of the richest men in Rome, he would practice poverty once a month to remind himself that losing all his possessions wouldn’t be such a bad thing. He dressed in ragged clothing and ate cheap food. And he would ask himself if this is what he was afraid of?

Because once actually under the cold water, the question is silly. It’s not bad. I enjoy it. The thing that I feared was not to be feared at all.

This works for all sorts of things. If I have a big project, I write down the steps, then I start doing them. Often, the project wasn’t that big at all.

Why I’m Not Upgrading My iPhone

Until two days ago, I was set to buy the iPhone 5. I have the iPhone 4. My phone had started to feel big, and it was slowing down.

It’s been two generations. Why not upgrade? It made sense as a business case. I use my phone often enough that I would save much time from getting a faster phone.

Then two things happened:

1. I watched Jimmy Kimmel fool people into thinking the iPhone 4S was the iPhone 5.

2. I had to upgrade to iOS 5.1.1 to secure my jailbreak.

I’ve realized that the people in that video weren’t so silly after all, and that I’ve been using my phone wrong for years. I’m no longer using a case, and I’ve made it 50% faster (subjective) by restoring it, and turning it off occasionally.

Thanks, Jimmy

I had a good laugh watching people gush over the iPhone 4s. “It’s so much faster than my iPhone 4S!”.

Comments on Hacker News pointed out that most of the people impressed by the “new” iPhone had big cases on their phones. Hmm…I did too. I had an Otterbox case, because I can be a klutz. I’ve gotten in the habit of throwing my phone around, because the case is so tough.

It occurred to me that I probably could be more careful with my phone, if there was no case on it. And Apple replaced it when my screen cracked (even though there was a case on the phone). I could probably get them to do it again, if something went wrong.

The resale value of the phone is only ~$300, so why not use it with no case. The very worst case scenario is a one-off $300 loss.

I’ve really come to appreciate the beauty of the iPhone. Yes, I sound like a fanboy…but it’s a really nice phone. It feels light and smooth in my hand. I can understand why those people thought the iPhone 4S was the new iPhone….they’ve been holding rubber in their hand, rather than sleek glass and metal.

Restoring My Phone To Proper Functionality

As iOS 6 was coming out, the window to upgrade to 5.1.1, jailbroken, was closing. So I restored my phone, and upgraded.

I was blown away at the speed increase. Clearly it had been too long since I restored. Or possibly, too long since I turned the damn thing off.

In any case, my phone is 50% faster. It feels like a new iPhone. If the people in Jimmy Kimmel’s video were used to a bogged down 4S, it makes sense that a shiny new 4S felt like an improved product.

I’m now going to restore periodically, and make an effort to turn my phone on and off every now and again.

I don’t Need an iPhone 5

My phone now feels new. Everything I use it for (calendar, internet, omnifocus, evernote, photos, dropbox) feels instant. I can no longer make the case for upgrading, at least not for efficiency reasons.

And physically, it’s a joy to use. The pleasant feeling of using it is worth the risk of dropping it. From anecdotes, the phone is actually quite durable. I know from experience that the screen doesn’t scratch, at the least.

I will likely get the 5S, or whatever it will be, but for now I’m thrilled to have discovered how good my phone actually is.


I’m Graeme. I’m a self-employed LSAT instructor in Montreal, moderator of /r/LSAT.

Enjoy this post? Signup for my RSS feed or follow me on twitter.

Minimal Wallet (Stuff I like)

If you’re like most guys, you probably have a lot of stuff in your pockets. And unfortunately, it’s not wads of cash.

It’s plastic, and coins. Modern wallets are huge. You’ve got coins, bills, credit cards, debit cards, membership cards, etc.

Following my brother’s lead, I got rid of the coins, and never looked back. I bought a wallet that only carried cards and money.

It was good, for a while. But then my brother showed me a neoprene card holder from Mec.

It’s the greatest “wallet” I’ve ever used. I don’t carry cash anymore. Instead, I have:

  • Business credit card
  • Personal Credit Card
  • Business Debit Card
  • Personal Debit Card
  • Metro Card (Subway)
  • Health Card (Photo ID in Quebec)

That’s it. I hardly notice that I have it. It’s incredibly easy to take out of my pocket, and fast to find the cards.

It’s been discontinued, but you can place a bulk order on Alibaba if you truly want one…. (Stuff I Like)

Jerry Seinfeld had some productivity advice. To keep writing jokes, he put a big calendar up on the wall. Every day he met his writing goal, he put an X on that day. After a while, the X’s formed a chain. It looked nice.

Your job is not to break that chain.

It’s great advice, I’ve used it to help build several new habits. I found a great, lightweight webapp to help you do that: is really simple. You add a chain, and click if you met that goal each day. It forms a nice, satisfying chain. I added it to my bookmarks bar, and check off my goals at the end of each day.

It sounds silly, but it works. Whenever I’ve broken a habit, I’ve noticed that I’ve gone a few days without marking off my chains. I didn’t break the habit in the first few days, but not marking down my progress “allowed” me to break the habit later.

My one piece of advice: Don’t build too many chains. I find one positive goal (doing something) and one negative goal (not doing something) is as much as I can handle.

Once a goal is in “maintenance”, then you can add more.

Go make some chains!

Moving Towards The Mountain

You may have seen Neil Gaimen’s commencement speech last week. If not, ignore the rest of this post and watch the video now.

The entire speech is great. But I was struck by Gaimen’s “moving towards the mountain” metaphor. He gave me words to describe what I’ve been doing for the past year and a half.

I left law school in December 2010. I had no plan. I just had a goal: make my own way in the world. I would do no work that I did not want to do.

To my great surprise, things have worked out. Whenever I faced a choice, I just asked myself: will this take me closer to my goal, or move me away?

Over the past 15 months, I have:

  • Set up a private LSAT tutoring business
  • Helped a niche test prep company move into Montreal
  • Written LSAT explanations that provide me steadyroyalties each month
  • Begun learning to program

I didn’t plan to do any of these things. But when I noticed an opportunity, and saw that it brought me closer to my goal, I tried it. There were other things I tried that didn’t work out, but it’s not hard to try an experiment, and swiftly abandon it if it fails.

Just recently, I took over the LSAT subreddit, /r/LSAT. I’ve spent the past week getting it going.

Do I know how this will help me? Not at all. It might lead to nothing, or it might be the best thing I’ve done since leaving law school. I’ve never been a subreddit mod before, I have no clue what will happen.

But it feels like a step towards the mountain. How can it be anything but good to create an active forum that covers my niche? The worst case scenario is that I provide something useful to people for a while, nothing much comes from it and I hand it off to someone else. It’s worth an experiment, considering the potential upside.

Thanks to my past work, I’m free to spend two weeks getting something like this going, even if it doesn’t work.

Likewise, I’m learning Ruby on Rails with Michael Hartl’s Rails Tutorial. Do I know exactly where this will lead? Do I have a well defined plan for how to benefit from this knowledge? Hell no.

But, it clearly won’t be a bad thing to know how to program in Rails, even if I never learn any more Rails than the guide teaches me.

This isn’t entirely Neil Gaimen’s strategy at work. I’m also following Nassim Taleb’s advice, and exposing myself to events that have low risks and high potential upsides. I’ve done this ever since leaving law school. When any of these high potential events pays off, I move several steps closer to the mountain. When one fails to pay off, I just discard it.

I’m a lot closer to the mountain now.


I’m Graeme. I’m a self-employed LSAT instructor in Montreal and moderator of /r/LSAT.

Enjoy this post? Signup for my RSS feed or follow me on twitter.

Prefer email? Sign up for updates below:

Enter your email address: Delivered by FeedBurner


Why You Should Track Your Monthly Bills and Subscriptions

Unless you live in isolation on top of a mountain, you pay many bills each month. Internet, cell phone, cable, online subscriptions, insurance, electricity, etc.

These bills have multiplied now that you can subscribe to services on the internet. Do you know how much you spend, when the billing dates are, and how you pay for everything? Most people don’t.

(For those who do track your bills: congratulations, you’re ahead of the curve. Most people don’t, at least not in their 20’s)

I know didn’t, until I decided to take an hour to look over my credit card statements and write everything down.

You should do the same. Then list the results. You don’t have to be fancy – I made mine in google docs.

I split my list between business and personal expenses. For each entry, I have:

  • The total price.
  • The Billing Date. (Why not?)
  • The Payment method (name of credit card or paypal)

Advantage To Listing Your Monthly Bills

Listing my bills lets me total my monthly expenses from bills and subscriptions. I already knew roughly what I spend for my other main categories of spending (rent, groceries, amazon books, fun, etc.) Now I know roughly how much I spend each month, on everything. It didn’t take very long to do.

Recently, this list was very useful to me for another reason. One of my credit cards is expiring, and I had to update my payment information at every service that used it. I have about 12 bills, and I use different payment methods. If I missed one that used this card, I could lose a payment and possibly have the service cancelled.

But it only took me 15 minutes to fix everything. I just found which 7 bills used the card in question, went to their websites, and updated everything. Now I don’t have to worry about a missed payment.

I got the idea to track my subscriptions from I Will Teach You To Be Rich, by Ramit Sethi. Despite the somewhat scammy sounding title, this is a really good book that gave me some actionable tips towards tracking my finances. Ramit will teach you how to negotiate raises and discounts, and how to automate your saving and spending. Highly recommended.

I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Steps To Tracking All Your Monthly Subscriptions

  1. Write down all the things you think you’re buying each month. This isn’t essential, but it can help make sure you get everything.
  2. Get your last 2-3 statements for each credit card, and look at your last two months of paypal payments, if any. You’ll want multiple bills so that you can double check, and so that you can look for any weirdly named companies that handle payments.
  3. Open up Excel/Google Docs, and go through your statements.
  4. For each service, enter the price paid, and the date you paid it on. It’s occasionally useful to know billing dates, so you may as well collect them when you do this.
  5. For extra credit, categorize your subscriptions into a few major categories.
  6. And now that you have your bills all in one place, why not ask yourself if you really need all of them.

Bonus: Seeing all my services in one place made me realize that a few had become absolutely useless to me. I saved $20 per month. Not bad for an hour’s work.


I’m Graeme. I’m a self-employed LSAT instructor in Montreal.

Enjoy this post? Signup for my RSS feed or follow me on twitter.

Prefer email? Sign up for updates below:

Enter your email address: Delivered by FeedBurner
*Affiliate Disclaimer: The link to Ramit’s book is an affiliate link. I get a small fee if you click on the link and buy a book on amazon. I sometimes post links to help defray the costs of running a blog, but I only recommend books that I’ve read and find useful.If you prefer not to give me any money, you can click this non-affiliate link: I Will Teach You To Be Rich