Backup Updated

February 17, 2018 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers, Software | Leave a comment

I’ve written several articles on computer backup over the years. For example:

Backup That Counts reviewed types and locations of backups

Backup That Works talks about why you want a backup, and why you want to choose the system carefully.

However, many of the programs I’ve recommended have not been upgraded for more recent Windows versions. It’s time for a new article.

For my work computer, I have 3 kinds of backup:
– weekly system image of the boot drive
– daily data backup of changed files – a differential with monthly full, 3 months kept.
backup on save (real time or file sync) of key files or folders from my current projects, with versions.

The first ensures I can recover my system and get up and running quickly. Standard backups don’t work well for restoring operating systems – you want imaging for that. The second ensures I have copies and quick access to everything I’ve worked on or collected. The third makes a copy each time I save the file, ensuring I lose little time if key files are corrupted, deleted in error, or similar. I can get working quickly even if the whole system died.

While I’ve not needed these backups often, they make a huge difference when I do. There are some files that could not be recovered.

While Windows 10 has a backup tool included, I don’t like the approach. It’s hard to check if you don’t know what it’s doing. Other tools I’ve used have become out-of-date or insufficient.

I found maintaining 3 different programs annoying so I ended up migrating to AOMEI Backupper to get the first 2 types of backup. This includes a tool to create a bootable disk so you can access your backup without the software installed, like in moving to a new system. Then after testing, I upgraded to the paid version to get the third, File Sync. The paid version also has some useful tools I wanted. AOMEI has served me well for awhile now.

I’ve not found other tools that combine these techniques. AOMEI isn’t perfect. It’s not always clear what some settings mean. But their web site covers the process for configuring most options. Most importantly, the software has been very reliable. Once it’s set up and scheduled, it’s simply worked.
David

Backup That Counts

January 25, 2014 at 12:26 am | Posted in Backup, Computers, Internet, Online services, Security, Software | 9 Comments

Many tell me they’re not worried if their computer dies – they’ll just buy another. But gradually as our lives go more digital, we start collecting digital things that are more difficult to lose. The password for the service you paid for. The holiday photos. Your oh-so-carefully prepared resume. Important contact information. The list gets larger and larger.

With that growing body of digital history, the need for decent backup grows. For most people, you want it to be automatic. Set it and forget it. Manual gets forgotten.

At the same time, you want a backup that works. If it’s not reliable or there are barriers to getting access to your key files during a failure, it’s not working. A backup is only useful if it can be easily restored. I’ve seen studies that show even expensive business backup solutions failed in practice the majority of the time.

Software and Data, Local and Remote
There are 2 types of stuff to back up and 2 types of places to put that backup.

Software
The first type of stuff to backup is your operating system (OS) and programs. The key reason to do this is to get you up and running again as quickly as possible. Having to reinstall the OS, all your software, and all the updates can literally take days of your life.

The best solution for software is an Imaging tool. The ones built into modern operating systems (like Windows 7+) are fine. Or buying the well-known Acronis TrueImage. This can be set up to be automatic. Weekly is probably enough unless you experiment with software a lot.

Data
The second type of backup is for all your stuff – all the files you create or receive and store in the digital world. If your needs are simple, the above imaging software may be fine. Just image it all together. If you do this, set the backup for ‘daily incremental’. This will catch all the changes made each day.

The downside of imaging your data is access to that backup. If your system goes down or is stolen, you have no quick access to your stuff inside the backup until you have a similar environment and software installed. Go to your old Vista computer, for example, and you’ll have to jump through hoops to get at your Win7 backup.

A better solution is simple file copy or zipping. Those copies of all your created files can then be accessed at any time by any OS – even a floppy. Cobain Gravity has been my recent free choice for that. Plug in your backup drive to another computer and get to work.

For your most critical files where you want to save current versions more often than daily, I recommend File Hamster. When that file or folder is added to File Hamster, ever time you hit save, it makes an additional copy to the location of your choice. (a different drive) This has saved my bacon a couple of times when a file got corrupted. And this is much more likely to happen on files you use all the time.

The program is not presented as free but if you don’t purchase it after the trail period, it reverts to Basic mode. It’s more than worth paying for though. I wrote 2 articles about it here.

Location, location, location
Local
The first type of backup location should be local, due again to the simple question of immediate access. In your office or nearby on the network. An external hard drive or network attached storage (NAS) are best and not expensive. Different types of backup above can be saved to different folders on the same external drive. Figure on double to triple what you have now for the size of the external drive.

Backing up to an optical disc is useful for long term archives, but is too manual for automated backup. Thumb drives have longevity issues and are again too manual.

Remote
Unfortunately, a local backup will not save your files in the event of a fire, major theft or other such disaster. For that you need a secondary off-site backup. But it should be secondary. Automated remote backup still has too many possible points of failure to be your primary solution.

Software
Storing an OS image in the cloud is problematic as it is large and thus takes massive time and bandwidth to upload. Not to mention the cost of the on-line storage. And then if you have a failure, you cannot restore the OS from the cloud. You need an OS to get to the OS.

The simple off-site solution for the OS is making a periodic image to portable media and storing that safely off-site. Then you can still restore if your local backup solution fails. It’s a bit manual, but ensures it’s easy & workable.

Data
The focus of your automated secondary backup is for your critical files. On-line file-sharing and backup services have been growing in leaps and bounds. I even researched setting up one myself. But they also have issues. Make sure the service is suited to the task. Some sites delete your files automatically after a certain period of time. They’re not designed for backups.

Copying your critical data over the wide open Internet is akin to sharing – not a fine idea. Some suppliers may add encryption, but make sure it’s also encrypted in transit or you’re exposing your content where it’s most vulnerable. Complicating your choices are the cost and that some use quite proprietary techniques. This can again create access issues in the even of system failure.

In a recent article by Fred Langa, he introduces an alternative solution. You use the online storage of your choice. And you use a local pre-encryption tool that automatically encrypts, then uploads to that on-line service whenever you copy files to it. He used Boxcryptor. (requires .Net4)

You set up Boxcryptor and point it to your on-line storage. Then you set up a secondary backup routine in your backup software to copy to your designated Boxcryptor folder on an automated schedule. Backup to Boxcryptor to On-line storage. Voila – automated and secure on-line backup. The basics are free for personal use.

From a convenience and recovery standpoint, those encrypted files are then available from all platforms anywhere – Android , Mac, & PC.

Be sure the size of your backup routine is less than the size of the on-line space you have. BoxCryptor does allow you to connect multiple services. Also make sure you’re backing up to the virtual drive, not the BoxCryptor.bc folder, or the files won’t be encrypted. Same with decrypting them – get them from the virtual folder or they won’t be decrypted – they’ll just be gibberish. PCWorld talks about using BoxCryptor here.

Fred’s article talks about using it with Skydrive. Boxcryptor supports a wide range of on-line providers, including Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and many more.

Just make sure you use LastPass or some other tool to securely store that unrecoverable Boxcryptor password. In a place that can be accessed any time. Otherwise, you’ve added a key point of failure.

I also reviewed several other encryption options. Some of the on-line storage companies are offering software to do much the same with their own tools but reviews said they were slow. Several tools only work with the big 3 or even only with Dropbox.

And then there’s ownCloud. A little more geeky, but it lets you create your own on-line storage in whatever web server space you have available (assuming your web host is OK with that). It can also manage other sites, mount webDav supporting services like Box, DropBox, GoogleDocs (which it will also open) and supports FTP. It will also give you a cross-platform tool for accessing files, calendar, contacts, bookmarks, galleries and so forth.

Blend that with Boxcryptor and you have your own custom solution.
Happy computing,
David

Backup that works

May 2, 2008 at 9:40 am | Posted in Backup, Computers | 6 Comments

We don’t make a computer backup so we can pack-rat away our computer activity. Its so we can recover our work, should something go wrong. Surprisingly though, the first is all some backup systems do.

Largely, computers are pretty reliable, especially considering how many different things any given computer will do. Unlike a fridge or telephone that does one or 2 things, a standard off the shelf computer these days comes with a security system, an operating environment, and tools for painting, writing, programing, maintenance, desktop publishing, accounting, communication, research, entertainment, document management and distribution. They also offer an unprecedented window to the world.

Macs tend to be more stable as they are a little more of a closed system. You can’t buy the Mac OS and put it on any old computer. Linux is also more stable as its based on a platform that was designed to be so in the first place – servers. Actually, thats another reason Macs are more stable – OS X is built on the same sort of underpinning as Linux. Windows computers are not quite as reliable partly because they have been a more open and adaptive system – they will tolerate more poorly designed programs and hardware device drivers. That flexibility has gradually been reduced from Windows 98 through todays Vista, one of the reasons its getting more stable. And one of the reasons Vista has had slower adoption – it doesn’t work with some older hardware for that reason.

Backup software (of sorts) has been included in Windows and other OS’s for quite some time. The idea is that you are thus protected from happenstance. Trouble is, all too many backup systems don’t actually work where it counts – in restoration. Recently, a friend of mines laptop took a jar while the hard drive was busy. It was toast. The name brand external hard drive, running name brand backup software, could not restore to a new hard drive. It required the operating system and backup software to be on board to restore. Curiously, the backup then expected a full restore only, something it couldn’t do. It was with some difficulty that I was able to extract the documents from its proprietary system.

At the moment, I am setting up a server backup system from tools someone else chose. A dominant industry tool that is very pricey and requires extras to do things like back up databases. Extras that are more expensive than the database software itself. Yet it has the same kinds of issues I mention above.  From a disaster recovery standpoint, it sucks. Yet this is a common solution sold by vendors around the world. As some studies I’ve read illustrate, a majority of commercial backup systems fail when properly tested.

One question to ask yourself in planning a backup / disaster recovery system is How much work am I willing to redo? How far back can you recover? If you lost a weeks work, could you recover it or would it simply be a loss? What impact would that have on your business if you lost sales records for a week? There are businesses that have been destroyed by data loss.

There is a definite cost balance here as you step up the chain of what ifs. The likelihood gradually goes down, but the consequences increase.

What if:
1 – an important file was corrupted. Outlooks email file (most versions store ALL email in one file), your customer records, a project document you’ve been working on for months. (a friend recently lost his only copy of an almost finished book. Fortunately he had emailed a copy a few days before to a friend)

2 – something in the software was messed up. The computer won’t boot properly, key software crashes, you get a virus infection. Hundreds of thousands of computers are compromised by trojans that are used to send you all that nice spam.

3 – something in the hardware breaks. The computer won’t start, the hard drive fails, the motherboard checks out.

4 – the computer is lost. The laptop is stolen or lost, there is a total system failure, it overheats and self-destructs.

5 – the infrastructure is lost. There is a fire, flood, earthquake, all those nice exceptions to most insurance policies

When I say the likelihood goes down, thats not to say it never happens. I’ve seen all of it. What some people don’t recognize is the gradually increasing dependency they have on that data. Gradually they’ve shifted from occasional emails to Aunt Maude to important work documents, music and photo libraries, and financial records.

Its not like we can avoid computers completely, although I know a couple of people that still do. But we do need to start treating them with a little more care. When was the last time you did routine maintenance on your computer? Took out the trash, gave it a vacuum, cleaned the windows? Some people spend more hours on their computer than they do in their car yet give their car more care.

I talk about system maintenance in these posts, but basically you want not only a backup system but a general system maintenance program. Once its set up, you can automate it as well. Unlike vacuuming, your computer can mostly self-maintain if you set it up right.

Then you have a system that rarely bogs and is much more reliable long term. And you have a disaster recovery plan. Given how computer vendors talk about the coming ‘self-healing’ computer, its surprising such functionality is not set up with any new computer.

I’ve talked about backup techniques prior. But basically you want to pick techniques to recover from any what if. Most of the software I mention is linked here)

A – you want a system backup so you can quickly restore the operating systems and programs to their prior state. By far the best tool here is an Imaging tool, NOT a standard backup program. Imaging is faster, more accurate and gets it all. Acronis TruImage gets the best review recommendations. They had an older version available for free for a short while but no longer. Recently, I’ve seen a couple of suggestions to use the free DriveImage XML if budget is an issue. The WinPE option they suggest is advantageous so that you can recover using a bootable CD. When the OS is messed up.

A system backup is something you do when you make system updates, like once a week or month. This covers major issues or problems, like those in #2 plus above. Its mainly about programs, not working files.

B – you want a file backup for the files you make. For this, a weekly full backup and daily incremental backup is the best for sensible restore. I recommend files be either copied to another location, like FileHamster and SyncToy do, or to a ZIP format archive. Many software programs use a proprietary backup format that cannot be accessed unless you have the correct software in the correct version running to recover it. Much easier if it can be recovered more easily.

Location

As I’ve covered before, the question of Where to back up to is equally important. FileHamster may be handily automatically backing your important files up on save. But if its backing them up to the same hard drive and the hard drive fails, you’re toast. Keep in mind that on some computers, there may appear to be 2 hard drives (Say C and D) but they may not actually physically separate drives but rather 2 partitions of the same drive. So the drive fails, both partitions do too.

What you want is a separate hardware device. External hard drives have become quite popular for this, as have the larger USB sticks. Some people i know have 2 drives and alternate them each week, with the other drive being off site in the event of break-in, fire, etc. Online backup tools also put your files off site. Perhaps you only use them for critical files. I also know of people with Gmail accounts who email themselves key files, then archive them on site. A little clumsy but it works. (links in the post above)

And finally, we can touch on the reliability of the backup system itself. If you use an external drive, what sort of redundancy does it have? Microsoft is now promoting its Home Server for backup and media serving. Stashed in a cupboard, it can back up all of the computers on your network. One could get mirrored hard drives for that so that if the backup drive failed, there would be an exact copy still ‘up’. It may seem excessive, but I have seen backup systems fail at the same time as the systems they were backing up. If you want to cover this, another one I’ve been recommended is made by Qnap in their TS-200 series. Its a bit less plug and play as they expect you to choose the drives to size your system, but a pair of TB (terrabyte) drives are mirrored for the price of a single drive in a Home Server system. You can also use it as a file server, with the mirror as its backup for a little less redundancy.

Don’t worry, be happy. Easier when its taken care of.
David

External Hard Drive backup, with ease

August 13, 2007 at 10:00 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers, Hardware | 1 Comment

This evening, I helped a friend set up a backup system. We ended up picking up one of the newer Western Digital ‘My Book Essential’ external drives at Costco (Canada) for an excellent price. (in “Where to back up“, I cover why this)

I was impressed – just plug it in and it loaded the drivers from the drive, offered the option to install the WD backup software, then offered to run a backup. While its not as sophisticated a backup program as the ones I’ve suggested, it is functional. I was able to create a daily incremental scheduled backup in a few minutes, without including the Temp, recycled bin, and so forth.
The drive turns itself off and on with the computer but can be manually shut down as well. It has intelligent shutdown in the event of trouble. It can of course be used as another drive for storing bulk media, etc too. And it has an indicator to show how full it is.

I personally prefer Imaging software for system backup, but this solution just works. And thats a better solution for many people.

It is indeed Plug and Play.

Online Backup

August 10, 2007 at 2:37 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers | 1 Comment

Dell recently introduced an online backup service. I covered this concept in my prior posting on “Where to back up to” (near the bottom). Note also the article on free options for basic needs.

Handily, Dell has also made a short video discussing the concept and explaining the process realistically.

FileHamster realtime free backup

July 25, 2007 at 3:06 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers | 3 Comments

Recently, I became aware of a backup alternative thats fabulous if your work is computer based – writers, artists, designers, and so forth. And its designed for your use.

We’re talking free, easy version control and real time backup.

“FileHamster provides real-time backup and archiving of your files while you work. It enables you to monitor specific files on your hard drive and automatically create incremental backups whenever those files are modified. It also enables you to store notes about the changes that have been made, allowing you to quickly locate a specific revision or provide a detailed account of the work you’ve done on a project.”

“first backup tool for artists: optimized to intelligently handle the varying saving schemes for all applications and includes features focused on helping artists be more efficient while they work.”

As you’ll see it comes well recommended.

http://www.mogware.com/FileHamster/

See articles on Where to backup and Techniques for more backup ideas.

Backup techniques

July 25, 2007 at 3:04 pm | Posted in Backup, Computers | 1 Comment

How hard would it be for you to redo your work if it was lost? Can it be replaced or redone? Can you replace those photos? The harder it is for you to answer that question, the more you need a backup system.

My post on ‘Where to Backup’ outlines the places and hardware choice you might make. The other thing to understand is How to backup.

If you want it simple, recent versions of all operating systems come with backup programs. In Windows XP, for example, you’ll find it in Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Backup. After you set it up, you can automate it using the built in scheduler. Automation is best so you don’t forget.
This is however not an ideal backup system. For example, the operating system has to be up to restore and the files are stored in a proprietary format, inaccessible without the system fully functioning.

I recommend a 2 pronged approach.
1) Backup your daily work files, email, and similar things using a ZIP based program. In other words, the file archives to ZIP, a format that can be accessed even from a boot DOS disc. Its fast, they take less space, can be password protected, and its readily accessible.

2) Image your operating system and programs. Imaging is an exact copy of your hard drive and is much faster and smaller than a file archive. If you are using it simply for the system, it is required less frequently. Perhaps weekly.

For the first, I’ve been happily using ZipBackup http://zipbackup.com/
It is licensed per user, so can be used on multiple computers. It can use command line and batch file automation. The most recommended program I’ve seen is Genie
http://www.genie-soft.com/

Another program you can use is the free Microsoft SyncToy. Its designed to match files between 2 locations, such as workstation and laptop. But it can be used for backups. Its not ZIP based though. http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/prophoto/synctoy.mspx

Another alternative – see my post on real time backup – for free!

NOTE – this kind of program cannot backup in-use system files so is unsuitable for a system backup. It is ideal for file backup as suggested.

For the second, the top recommended Imaging program is Acronis True Image.
http://www.acronis.com/homecomputing/products/trueimage/
Fred Langa has long recommended another product, BootItNG. This is because it can do DOS command line backups, meaning you can restore a downed OS from a boot floppy or CD whereas most other solutions require you install the OS and program, then restore. Its a bit geekier to use though. http://www.terabyteunlimited.com/

And theres a free if a little geeky program DriveImage XML:
http://www.runtime.org/dixml.htm

Accepting Cryptocurrency

February 10, 2021 at 10:41 pm | Posted in Backup, Economoney, Software | 1 Comment
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I’ve had some requests to accept digital currency on my other WordPress site. When I last looked, this was a rather challenging proposition. But I discovered it’s now much more straightforward.

Cryptocurrency is a huge topic. It’s like combining the stock market with international currency exchange and international trade. Uniquely though, it’s decentralized, distributed, very secure, and transactions are all public (but not identities).

I’m just a beginner but I thought it worth sharing what I’ve learned for others in a similar place. There’s lots of conflicting opinions out there.

First, you need a “digital wallet” to hold your funds.

The most secure is a hardware device you plug in via USB.
Devices by Ledger and Trezor are recommended.

But this is premature for getting started. It’s simpler to start with a software digital wallet.

Careful with online trading accounts as you may not control your private key and can be totally dependent on them for your funds and security. No bank insurance.

For a desktop computer, simplest may be an app that handles a single currency, like the recommended Electrum for BitCoin. However, if you’re going to accept several currencies, it’s more straightforward to use one app that handles all your currencies in one wallet and allows easy transferring between them.

I settled on Atomic Wallet. During setup, you’ll be asked to make note of your seed phrase. This is a way to recover your private key and restore funds in the event of a computer problem. Don’t skip this.

Sending and receiving digital funds is free. Exchanging and purchasing coin can be more costly within the app but is also more straightforward and avoids third-party risks. In the upper right is a button to a settings screen that allows you to turn off the currencies you’re not interested in now.

Another recommended option is the similar Exodus. They have a partnership with Trezor, making migrating to hardware later more straightforward. They also have a mobile wallet. The software has fewer features than Atomic and their support pages were lacking.

For iPhone and Android, Trust Wallet or Exodus (above) are recommended, though I’ve not tried them. Evidently Atomic will soon have a mobile app too.

Advantages of a cell app include having the wallet with you and using QR code scans to get wallet addresses rather than copy-paste. The big disadvantage is increased vulnerability, so take care with security settings.

With a digital wallet up and running, you can now exchange digital currency!

The key with any wallet is recognizing your data has monetary value. You need:

1) A password manager. Your wallet needs a strong password that’s hard to remember. You don’t want to lose your funds. And there is no central authority that can restore your password.

This is also a good place to store your Seed Phrase (private key) securely so you can recover your wallet.

2) A backup. While your wallet data is encrypted and stored decentrally online, your access to that is in your wallet. Again, you don’t want to lose that.

After you’ve chosen and installed a wallet, your second step is to offer it to the world. That needs a WordPress plugin. The Cryptocurrency Donation Box was just the ticket.

After installing and activating the plugin, you add your wallets public addresses for each coin you want to offer.

In Atomic, click the currency and click Receive and it will show the public “address” of your wallet for that currency. Click Copy, then paste that into the plugin for that currency.

A few popular ones should do it. Save. On Settings, you may want to tweak the Description.

Finally, just paste the Shortcode into the Page where you want it to show up. I used the tabular one, as shown at the top of the plugins description page.

Now you can accept digital currency on your WordPress site. The user copies your address, pastes it into their wallet, adds an amount, and clicks Send. In a few minutes, it shows up in yours. Easier than PayPal.

Like to know more? A very simple introduction to Bitcoin:

On YouTube

An overview of the implications:

On YouTube

David

Going Secure with your Website

March 23, 2018 at 7:47 pm | Posted in uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Once upon a time on the Internet, you only needed to secure your website if you were selling on-line. Often you linked to another website to do this for you. Yet browsing any unsecured website, especially on public WiFi, can easily be snooped. To make your activity more secure, web browsers are increasing their warnings about ANY site that doesn’t have a security certificate. The little “i” beside the web address is soon to go red and add warnings on many, many websites.

As this initiative is being driven partly by Google, having a certificate also helps search engine rankings. If you have a free blog like this one on WordPress.com or on Blogger or similar, you’ll see they’ve gone to https already.

But if you host your own website, you may want to consider securing your site with an SSL certificate so this issue will not chase away viewers.

This Webnames article talks about the changes and what the browser warnings will look like.

This article talks about the kinds of certificates that are available. If you have a simple informational site, you’ll just need a basic domain validation type. But if you use sub-domains or have multiple sites, other options are available.

You can get a free certificate, but they have to be renewed often and have no support or insurance. If you have forms of any kind, including subscription or contact, paid will be more reliable. A basic paid certificate is a similar price to a domain name which makes it worth the small cost.

While you can install any certificate on your site, it’s easier to go with the options your hosting provider offers. This way, you also get their support and they’ll describe the steps on their servers. The process is fussy so that’s valuable. Give yourself time to sort out the bugs.

Here is a typical process. It will vary by host, server OS, and security vendor.

Step 1: Ordering the certificate you need. For example, I went to the SSL section of my host’s website and ordered there.

Step 2: Certificate Signing Request key: Typically, you’ll generate a CSR, then enter it into a form with your organizational info. This may be in 2 places on your host’s site.

Step 3: Often, there is then steps to set the certificate up in your website Control Panel under SSL or Security.

Step 4: Verify with the certificate provider. For example, they’ll email you a code to paste into a form to verify yourself. The certificate will then be Issued and emailed to you. Your site back end will be updated as well.

Step 5: Install the certificate. You then need to upload the certificate you received, usually into the form in step 3. Then you can select the certificate for your domain in your hosting control panel. Thus your site is certified secure.

Step 6: Site seal. You can then place a logo on your site to show your certification. This requires Header code, so I installed the “Insert Headers and Footers” plugin. (This can also be used for Google Analytics, Facebook pixel and so forth.)

You’re now officially secured. Run an SSL checker like this one, this one or this certificate detailed one to make sure everything is correct. Each reports a little differently.

But…
Odds are good that your site is full of old http addresses like images and back links. Thus, you’ll get a “mixed content” error and still won’t get the green lock or similar in a web browser – even if the SSL checks out perfectly.

This article lists some of the fixes needed (you can ignore the Cloudflare section if you’re not using them – skip to Enforcing SSL).

The temporary fix here was:
a) installing “SSL Insecure context fixer” plugin.
(Run the test first. It’s in the Dashboard, Tools menu. That tells you how to set it.)

b) In my case, the Custom HTML widgets needed to be updated to https links too.

If you’re still having issues, this tool identifies specific link errors.

As the above article mentions, you also want to update your website address on Dashboard, Settings, General to https. Also update your website links on social media sites.

Later, I’ll run a ‘search and replace‘ on the database to update all those image and internal links from http://domain.ca to https://domain.ca. Then I won’t need the plugin.

You can also use the “Broken Links Checker” plugin to check for redirected links, but I wouldn’t leave this plugin activated as it pumps the database too much and will slow your site.

Safe Surfing!
David

UPDATE:
When I migrated another site to a new domain a few years ago, I logged into the database, installed a special program, and ran a search and replace to update the domain for all the internal links. I then removed the program for security reasons.

This time, I took a newer, easier route and installed Better Search Replace plugin inside WordPress. After exporting the database as a backup, I ran a test. It found over 12,000 links to update (from http://domain.com to https://domain.com). I then ran the update and in a couple of minutes all was done.

I then deactivated the SSL Insecure Context Fixer plugin and ran a few SSL checking tools (all mentioned above) to confirm all was fixed.

I then activated Broken Links Checker to do a once over and fix random errors, like incorrect URLs entered into comment forms. I’ll deactivate this afterwards as it tends to bog a site down.

Had I known about the search and replace plug-ins sooner, I would have skipped the “temporary fix” above and done this directly. However, if there is an issue with the results, the SSL Fixer plugin can still be a great help to keep your lock green.

Book Publishing – Part 1 of 2

August 28, 2017 at 11:04 pm | Posted in Backup, Books, Design, Online services, Software, Writing | 6 Comments
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Many people have thought about writing a book. A small percent of those ever start. An even smaller percent get it written and a still smaller group try to get it published.

Nowadays, the majority of books are self-published. The average book sells fewer than 100 copies. Most published authors also have ideas that never see the page, half-finished works, and works that never went to publication.

Clearly, writing a book requires determination and passion. Self-publishing adds quite a few other hurdles to the equation. Writing turns out to be just the first step. Getting it out there requires many more steps. You can pay to get professional help for almost all of it (called a vanity press) but is that cost-effective for the market you have?

Some steps require help. But many steps can accomplished with a little learning and free or low-cost resources.

I’ve recently been through this process myself. I’ve attended several publishing workshops and writers groups, heard many presentations by people in the industry, and have been researching the software and documenting my process. Other authors have found the tips valuable, so I thought it would be useful to share some of what I’ve learned.

The first thing to understand is that desktop publishing revolutionized book publishing too. The changes are still coming. How-to-publish books from two years ago are no longer current. You can sell your self-published book internationally through dozens of outlets and even get into the catalogs of traditional distributors for libraries and bookstores.

But to get any real uptake requires you create a professional product. While it’s possible to draft a book in Word, upload that into Amazon as an ebook and offer it to the world, the likelihood of that going anywhere is tiny. That’s like putting a lemonade stand on the street and expecting the money to roll in. You’re competing with thousands of others around the world.

Further, if your audience happens to find your book but cringes at the cover or opening pages, that’ll kill sales, lose you money on bookstore returns, and get bad reviews. Unprofessional work lowers the whole market.

Following is a list of some of the stages of a book project. Each requires different skills and often, different tools. Below, I’ll go into each section and suggest tools and tips that may work for you. This article assumes you’ll be producing print and ebook versions of your book to reach the largest number of international readers. Ebooks alone are easier to prepare but you can’t use that for print. You can down-sample your print design into an ebook though. We’ll design for print, then output print and digital editions.

Note that this is an overview. Many of these topics have entire professions and websites dedicated to them. I’ve added numerous links to more information. The software I suggest is Windows-based, although some of it is available for other platforms.

Support
Writing
Layout
Editing
ISBN
Interior Design
Cover Design

Part 2:
File Conversion
Troubleshooting
Web Design
Publishing
Distribution
Marketing

Support

This is a professional project so you need an appropriate place to write, a decent chair, uninterrupted time, and so on.

You’ll want to set up a folder structure on your computer to store your book files in. Just like a filing cabinet. It can be a folder on your desktop but you want to take special care of these files as they’ll contain many hours of work.

If you haven’t already, you also want a backup system. I’ve seen authors loose their entire book in one hiccup. Have an automated backup. Make copies of different versions if you make major changes, like prior to editing. The ideal for creatives is a backup-on-save tool like File Hamster (free after the trial but needs .Net2) or Aomei Backupper Pro. The later has Real-time Sync in the paid version, along with system and data backup tools from the free version.

Its also a solo profession so you’ll find connecting with other writers and sharing tips valuable. Most areas have local writers groups. Just beware of groups where no one is producing work.

There are also on-line groups and sites you may find valuable. Just remember this is networking time, not work.

Finally, if you’re putting in a lot of hours, here’s a site of wellness tips for writers.

Writing

Your primary tool for writing is typically a word processor. Many people just use what they have but there are excellent free alternatives that will work with standard formats, including OpenOffice and LibreOffice. LibreOffice is a branch of OpenOffice that has been further along in development. The interface looks much like Word before the ribbon – many prefer that. Both support open standards.

You also have other choices. Inexpensive tools like Scrivener support the overall writing process. Others use clipping tools like Evernote to gather material. Recent versions of Windows include OneNote or it can be installed free. I paste notes into searchable text files

I’ve been writing on-line for a long time so I migrated to using Notepad++. It’s a text editor with spell check. It keeps me focused on the writing and doesn’t add unnecessary code. I’ve used it for long-form writing as well, migrating to LibreOffice when it’s time for formatting and sharing with the editor.

It’s usually best to stay with the flow of writing and leave the editing for later. Get the ideas down, then organize them. Avoid the temptation to format too soon. Lots more polishing is needed before you make it look pretty.

Once you get the content on the page and into some kind of structure, then you can go back over the words and begin smoothing.

Most authors benefit from a little planning, like an outline and structure so they can organize rough chapters and place the content. You may find a writing workshop valuable, perhaps one for your genre. Be forewarned that many publishing workshops are designed as sales fronts for vanity presses. They can still be valuable but only if it isn’t all about their sales channel – if they actually help you structure your book.

Ever notice how Google often finds the same articles on multiple blogs without credit? When you’re charging for a book, you copy at your peril. Plagiarism is easy to check. In fact, some editing tools include plagiarism checkers so you can insure you’re not wording things too much like another source.

Quoting is fine but give valid credit and use valid sources. There are a lot of badly attributed quotes out there, especially for people like Mandela and Einstein. If it doesn’t say where they said it, it’s not a valid source as it can’t be verified. Sites like WikiQuotes can help ensure you’re using legitimate ones.

Layout

Once you have a rough draft, you need to formalize the book structure more. Chapters, subsections, footnotes and so forth. Also roughly placing images and tables.

Here’s an article that talks about the front and back parts to plan, especially for non-fiction books.

If you’re not using a word-processor, it’s time to migrate your copy there. Just roughed in layout though – like bolding titles. Detailed formatting and design will be done in other tools after a lot more editing.

Editing

This is the step that requires professional help. It’s the step that will give your book a professional polish and readability. Even professional editors will hire another editor for their own writing.

However, before you head to an editor, you can save a great deal by first using one of the better editing tools like ProWritingAid. Then you’re not paying someone to fix your basic typos and glitches. ProWritingAid has a free on-line tool you can try but for a book-sized project, you’ll want more. They have several options including a Word plugin and a stand-along program. To give you a sense of how thorough it is, the tool has 25 reports. As you get to know it, you’ll find your writing has typical weaknesses best addressed with certain reports. For example, if you’re prone to over-use words or use clichés, use those reports. But if not, you might skip them.

One author wrote that she uses EditMinion, a free online tool, first. Then she uses ProWritingAid.

With that level of polish, you’re ready for a professional editor. Hopefully what you need is line and copy editing and not a rewrite. (there are many types of editing)

Your best source for an editor can be other authors recommendations. I’ve seen people without even an English degree let alone experience put up an editor shingle as a work-at-home project. Don’t shortcut. You can also solicit bids from sites like Reedsy.

Typically, you’ll send a sample and they’ll let you know how much work it needs. Then you’ll have an estimate of cost and time. The editors I’ve worked with requested Word docs, turned on Edit/ Track Changes, and marked up the files. You can then accept or reject their recommendations. Much easier than retyping although some of that will be called for too.

Be prepared for lots of changes. The object here is clear communication, not saving your little gems. A good editor fixes issues with clarity, grammar, and flow. They don’t change your voice or influence your story (unless it needs a reworking). If they do, look elsewhere. This is your book, not theirs.

If you’re making use of real-world or historical facts, this is a good time to verify your sources.

If you’re writing non-fiction, you also want to be building a Bibliography and references. Here’s an easy, free on-line citation generator for your Bibliography. (choose the style you want: Chicago, APA, etc) Just copy and paste them in alphabetically.

Once the whole thing is put together, it’s useful to have a few readers go over the text to make sure everything is clear to them. You want to be sure readers don’t get lost or stuck somewhere.

Then you run the entirety through a final proofreading aka a re-edit. Resist the urge to tweak the text after this stage as you can add new errors. Consider the content done.

ISBN

Every published book and every format of that book (soft cover, hard cover, epub, kindle, pdf, etc.) requires its own ISBN number. It will be on your printed back cover, your Copyright page, and on the book sales web page.

While you can pay for ISBN’s when uploading through Amazon and other distributors, that will tie your book to them as the “publisher.” You may have to get a new ISBN for other outlets. This will split up your sales data and lower your books presence and thus sales.

A similar thing will happen if your book is later picked up by a publisher but in that case, you’d only migrate to the lower take of a publishing deal if there are expectations of higher sales. As a publisher would normally re-edit and design a new cover, it would be a new edition, anyway.

Your better bet in self-publishing is to create an “imprint.” Essentially you make up the name of a publishing entity that represents your books and ties into your “brand.” Then you order your own ISBN numbers under this. This becomes your “publishing company.” (some charge for this tidbit) Mine, for example, is Davidya Publishing. If there’s tax advantages, you can formalize the company later. In the US, the government farmed out the sale of ISBN’s through Bowker. In Canada, you can get ISBN’s from the government for free. For other countries just search “ISBN CountryName.” Each varies.

With your ISBN, you’re ready to design your book. You can start the book design before getting your ISBN but you’ll need it for the print cover.

Interior Design

Your first decision before you begin design is to choose a book size. Unless you have a great reason, I’d strongly recommend a standard size.

Most recommend you get a book designer to design your book professionally. Interior Design is the look of the inside of your book – the fonts, headings, icons, page numbering, spacing, gutter, and so forth. This may seem simple but a poorly designed book is harder to read and will turn people off. Your book is not a school essay but a product you’ll be offering for sale. Does it look like it’s a commercial product?

You can ask other authors for recommendations or get bids for a book designer at 99designs.

If you have design skills and you’re going to tackle your own design, take a look at how others have designed their books, especially in your genre. Even if you do plan to hire a pro, you may find reading this over will help you understand what you’ll need from them.

Several experienced authors strongly recommended Adobe InDesign, saying it was worth the cost and learning curve long term. I’m happy I took their advice. You don’t need the latest version but your printers are set up to work with InDesign output. Consider the cost relative to a designer over several books. You’ll also be using it for the Cover design, if you’re tackling that too. It has a learning curve, but that’s easier if you’ve used other Adobe products like PhotoShop or InDesign’s predecessor PageMaker. And there’s lots of on-line help.

A free alternative that runs on many platforms is Scribus. I understand there can be some problems with uploading its output to printers but that these can be fixed in Acrobat. But if you need Acrobat, why not just get InDesign?

In InDesign, create a file for each section and chapter (don’t skip this), copy the content from your polished work into the files, then assemble the files as a Book. For chapter file names, start them with numbers to help organize them and avoid spaces in the file names – this will cause a hassle later in ebook world.

Also recognize that a bound book has specific layout requirements. You want to start right.

Choose your fonts. Make sure you can use the fonts commercially. Some downloaded fonts don’t authorize commercial use, for example.

Remember your basic design principles:
– fonts and other design elements should be the same or different, not similar. Similar looks like a mistake.
– traditionally, body text is serif fonts while titles are sans serif.
– make sure the cover is legible. It won’t help you if the title is hard to read or can be misread.
– paragraphs can be indented or not. You don’t need double spaces after a period. (these are old typewriter rules)

Set up pagination. File/ Document Setup to adjust. Usually all chapters will be an even number of pages to ensure new chapters start on the right side.

Design one of the early chapters first as a design template, adding the styles for titles, sub-sections, quotes, paragraphs, footnotes, etc.. Then set this file as the default Style Source (left side of the Book list) and copy the styles out to the other chapters. You may also want to edit the default paragraph in InDesign, or replace it in each file. Then you just go through your text and apply the styles.

Images should be at least 300 dpi so they print clearly. Only use images you have the rights to and give credit in the book. Again, you’re selling the product so using others work without rights is theft. You don’t want your distributor to delete your book due to a complaint.

Here’s a few articles that go over setting up your book in InDesign. Once you get the basics working, it comes together quickly.

One weakness of InDesign is it does footnotes but not endnotes. If you want endnotes, set footnotes then convert them to end-of-chapter notes or end-of-book notes. I used these scripts. You can rerun scripts to update changes but it’s easiest to do this once when the content is stable.

You’re also adding the opening and closing sections like the title and copyright page, dedication, index and so on. (see link in Layout above) InDesign has a tool for creating an Index from words you mark. (see the Index panel) It will also create a Table of Contents (TOC) from the titles and sub-sections you’ve styled. You can also use the table of contents tool to create a list of illustrations or tables in a similar way. Style the related text appropriately and distinctly, then use that to structure your TOC.

You had to polish every bit of text over and over. Now you have to polish every bit of the design over and over. Random things that happened during writing and editing can create little layout bugs. Like having two line breaks instead of one hard return can create different spacing. There will be things that are hard to find in InDesign. A quick search on-line usually finds the solution.

When you output the ebook version later, it will strip some of this formatting for you, like page numbers. They’re of no use when the text reflows to the device screen size. But you must be fussy about this step for the print version.

For the final print version, you’ll want to be adding some custom spacing to ensure subtitles are not at the bottom of pages and so forth. But leave these edits out for now as you don’t want to mess up your ebook version.

Cover Design

This is the #2 place where professional help is most recommended. Your cover design will determine if someone even looks at your book. If it screams amateur, they’ll assume the content is too. (Yes, people judge a book by its cover.)

Sure, you can auto-generate a cover in Calibre (in Part 2) using your ebooks metadata but it looks the part. You can also create a cover in CreateSpace for Amazon. But again, generic parts make for a generic look.

As above, you can use 99Designs to find a cover designer or talk with fellow authors for recommendations. Some designers will do both interior and cover at a slightly reduced rate. If you’re doing an ebook as well, you’ll also want the digital front cover. 99Designs also has a deal for IngramSpark customers.

If you happen to have graphic design skills, you can study how professional book covers are designed in your genre, then use design software of your choice. But note that the output of that software is what you’ll be uploading to the printers. They’ll reject files that don’t meet professional standards. They don’t accept JPGs for print, for example. Again, InDesign is recommended.

Remember that the cover will be printed so the colours have to be in the CMYK gamut or your cover can look quite different printed than you expected.

Again, use at least 300 dpi images and only use images you have the rights to and give credit in the book.

In the distribution section, I’ll be recommending you upload directly to Amazon as it’s the largest bookstore in the world. And I’ll recommend you upload to Ingram to get in their catalog plus get distribution through the worlds other ebook stores. This covers most everyone else including libraries and bookstores.

To build your cover correctly, you need a template set to the right size – both the cover size and the spine. The spine is determined by the number of pages. Your print book cover will be printed as a “spread” of the front, spine and back so everything has to be exactly the right size.

You also have to build the cover with “bleed.” This means having extra image around all the edges so the cutting of the cover doesn’t leave any unprinted trim. Usually .125″ on all sides but your printer may vary this.

While there are formulas for calculating all this, it’s easier to download templates from the suppliers. Ingrams will include your ISBN barcode too. If you plan to sell your print book internationally, I’d recommend not including the price in the barcode. It will be set in the particular sales channel.

Again, the print cover will be CMYK and the ebook cover is RGB. But it’s easier to stick with one version until you get to the conversion stage.

Getting an IngramSpark template

CreateSpace (Amazon) template

This completes the Design phase of your books production.

In Part 2 on ForNow, we’ll convert the book to the final formats and prepare the book for uploading and distribution.

David

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