Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Closed For Vacation

August 2011

By Mike Gould

Ah, August, the time that lots of families and businesses shut down for R&R. That's Rest and Relaxation, not Rock and Roll. Although if that's how you relax, rock on, dude. The real experts at this are the French; the entire country (La France) shuts down and heads for the beach (la plage). So: vacation checklist: pets (les chats) boarded, nearest relative (sa soeur) checks the house periodically, and computers (les boites infernals) are summer-ized.

You haven't prepped your computer for down-time? You are in luck (bonne chance), as that is our theme this month. Read on...

Back Up (Sauvegarde)
It bears repeating, so I'm going to repeat it: if it's worth saving, it's worth saving twice. Time to get out that external hard drive (disque dur et fort) and copy all your files onto it. Files, not apps - you already have your installation disks with your apps on them, and you know just where those are, right? (Unless you have just moved and are still looking for that Snow Leopard disk, as a certain journaliste-auteur de bozo is doing...)

And you have all your installation disks in a nice shoebox along with your back up CDs, DVDs, external drives (disques dehors), and manuals, right? Go ahead and check, I'll wait. There on the shelf behind the snowshoes and porcelain astrolabes, hidden at the back of the closet, right? Good place! Next to your computer: Bad Place.

The idea is that if your home/business/home-business is burgled while you are away, the bad guys (les couillon voleurs) get your easily-replaceable hardware but not your priceless records, because, hey, why would anyone look behind your snowshoes? If you are truly obsessed with physical security, consider a fire-proof safe (maybe on the floor under the snowshoe shelf), or entrusting the entire shoebox to a friend or relative. Who has a fire-proof house.

Now if your data is in anyway sensitive (contains medical or financial records, critical business info, etc.) you should also consider some form of encryption, or at least a start-up password. Most thieves are just interested in selling your hardware as soon as possible, and are not going to bother messing with your files, but you never know.

Concealment is also a good idea. Never put your computer in a room where it can be seen from a first-story window. If you absitively have to, make sure you have a shade on that window and it is closed while you are away. No sense proclaiming to passers-by: "Voila; bienvenu, entrez!".

Electricity (Les Amps)
As certain magazine publishers are aware, sometimes Reddy Kilowatt, and his buddy Zeus, are not your friend. There is nothing worse than returning from vacation to find your computer dead from an altercation with the above. You should always have a surge suppressor-equipped plug strip between your computer and the wall plug. Years ago, a heroic plug strip gave its life to keep an errant lightning bolt from frying my recording studio. And yes, it was errant: it was intended for my neighbor, but that's another story (un autre outré canard).

Data and excessive amounts of electrons do not get along well, and even a near miss from a bolt from the blue can cause your computer to lose all its bearings and maybe burn your house down to boot. If you are in an area where power outages and fluctuations are common, consider getting an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS). This rather heavy device (it contains a lead-acid battery, usually) will protect you from lightning as a power strip does, but will also protect your computer from brown-outs and the like.

I recently had an experience when our new country home was the victim of an electrical outage. All the lights went out as I was working on a document, but the computer kept humming along (something from Céline Dion, I believe) and I was able to complete my paragraph, then turn off the computer gracefully. Without the UPS, I would have lost everything since my last save. Actually, that's a lie - I wanted to see how long the battery in the UPS would keep my computer alive, so I kept working, saving often. I got around 12 minutes out of the sucker, I think. But I digress...

Email Notices (Les Alertes de Postes Electroniques d'Internet)
I have mixed feelings about this. Most email services allow you to automatically notify people that you will be "away from the keyboard" (sur la plage) whenever they contact you.

If you are on an email list, the entire list gets your reply every time you get a listed message, and this can be very annoying to all involved. This also tells people whom you are not close to that your house is probably going to be empty for a while. Not good (faux pas de la sécurité).

I deal with this by sending my vacation schedule to all my clients a couple of weeks in advance . It is important to give everyone enough warning so that they aren't making plans that involve you, which would be bad, and this also gives everyone a reminder that you are still out there to help them the rest of the time, and this is good. Invariably, whenever I send out one of these notices, I get one or two clients contacting me for work before I leave, or setting up an appointment for when I get back.

It's common courtesy: you don't want to offend the clients/customers that count on you by disappearing for a couple of weeks (I wish) without warning.

The author would like to apologize in advance to all Francophones who were offended by my rather liberal use of Franglaise and probably-incorrect grammar. Consider it a salute to a country that is smart enough to take an entire month off. That's living (C'est La Vie).

Mike Gould lived in Aix-en-Provence for six months in the late sixties, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M for 20 years, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, builds lasers into lunchboxen, performs with the Illuminatus Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to

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