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Mac Tips: Backup (Part 2)

Last week I covered backing up your Mac with Mozy -- a way to get your most important files backed up online for free. But because the free Mozy solution only stores up to 2 GB of data, you'll need to look elsewhere for a complete backup that covers your music, photos, and so on. You could pay a subscription for the Mozy full service, but this can get expensive over time -- and it can be very slow to upload tons of data over your home internet connection.

For Mac users, the obvious choice for full-drive backup is Time Machine, a new feature in Mac OS X Leopard. The ultimate "set it and forget it" backup, Time Machine uses an external drive (USB or Firewire) to back up your Mac's hard drive. It works in the background, waking up every hour or so to back up any newly changed files. It requires zero user intervention beyond attaching the backup drive. Setup is extremely simple: just plug in a new USB or Firewire drive to your Mac running Leopard, and you'll be asked whether you want to use that drive for Time Machine. Easy! Note: the initial backup will take some time...you may want to make sure your Mac is set not to fall asleep during this backup, so you can be sure to have a complete backup the first time. Later backups only copy what has changed, and usually only take a few minutes. All of the backups happen in the background, so you can continue to use your Mac while the backup is in progress.

To retrieve files from Time Machine, you can enter the crazy 3D Time Machine view (pictured above), where you zoom back in time to find specific files. A timeline on the right shows backups over time, so you can easily zip to a specific date and see what was in a given folder. Personally, I've never used this feature -- it's rare that I actually lose a single file or want to go back to an old version like this. (Though Apple seems to think this is a really zippy demo, so you'll see it in lots of online reviews.) But what I do use is the whole-disk restore feature: you can boot from any Leopard install DVD, plug in a Time Machine backup drive, and use it to restore your Mac's main hard drive. This is extremely useful in case your main drive dies and is replaced with a new one, or you want to clone your drive onto a new Mac.

Apple just released Time Capsule, which is an Airport Extreme wireless router with a built-in Time Machine backup disk (either 500 GB or 1 Terabyte [!]). This further simplifies backup, since you don't even have to plug in a drive -- it's available wirelessly. Also, Time Capsule is handy if you have a lot of Macs in the house and want to back them up to a single, central place without carrying a disk around. So if you need a wireless router AND you want to do Time Machine, check out Time Capsule. But if you just want to get started with Time Machine, an external disk (USB/Firewire) will be cheaper. Generally you want your backup disk to have at least 1.5x-2x more capacity than you're using on your Mac's main drive. Thus, if you're using 60 GB on your laptop's drive, you'll want your Time Machine backup drive to be in the 90-120 GB range, at minimum.

One thing to keep in mind: if your Time Machine backup disk is in the same location as your Mac, you could lose both of them in a disaster. So if your house burns down (let's hope it doesn't), you'd likely lose both your Mac and the backup. If it's possible for you to store the backup disk in some other location (for example, at work, if you bring a laptop back and forth), you'll have a bit more security. This is also why you'll also want to use a solution like Mozy to back up your most critical files online, thus hopefully protected from any disaster that might befall your Mac. By using this two-prong backup strategy, you'll be protected against a wide variety of possible problems.

Thanks for reading about backup! Windows users, please chime in using the comments if you have suggestions for Windows backup solutions. Also if anyone has a request for a future Mac Tip, please leave a note!

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The Secret to Getting Extra-Soft Towels at Home
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One of the greatest simple pleasures in life is stepping out of the shower, grabbing a freshly laundered towel, and sinking your face into its fluffy softness. But what if your towels are a tad rougher than you'd prefer? By making a few minor changes to your washing and drying routine, you can have perfect, pillowy towels at your fingertips.

In general, less is more seems to be the rule of thumb. Pop Sugar recommends ditching the dryer sheets and bleach, and using less detergent when possible. The chemicals in fabric softeners can actually damage towel fibers over time, making them stiffer and less absorbent. Instead, try placing a clean tennis ball or wool dryer balls in with the load to give your towels a thorough fluffing. But for those who can't bear to part with their softener, leaving it out every few washes will also help extend the lifespan of towels. Also, try to avoid over-drying them—remove towels from the machine before every last drop of moisture has been sucked out.

As for detergent, many people are guilty of dumping in more than the recommended amount, which can also stiffen towels. Real Simple suggests using half the detergent you would use for a normal load, or swapping it out for vinegar every once in a while. Follow these tips and you'll be on your way to four-star-hotel-quality towels in no time.

[h/t Pop Sugar]

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USPS's 'Informed Delivery' Service Will Email You Pictures of the Mail You're Getting Today
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In the world dominated by email, you may not always be excited to check your physical mailbox. But USPS’s Informed Delivery could change that. The service can tell you whether you want or need to check your mail that day, according to the Daily Dot, because it emails you images of every single piece of mail you’re scheduled to receive.

Once you opt into the service—which recently became available nationwide—USPS will send you an email each day before 9 a.m. with scanned images of every piece of mail you are due to receive. If you don’t receive the letter that you’re scheduled to get that day, you can immediately notify USPS by checking a box on the webpage. The service doesn’t show you images of anything bigger than a large envelope, so you can’t see your packages. However, it will give you status updates for them and allow you to leave delivery instructions.

If there’s a blizzard and you really don’t want to go outside for anything less than a paycheck or your long-awaited tax refund, you’ll know whether or not the slog to the mailbox is worth it. Informed Delivery is also a good way to make sure you’re actually getting the mail you’re scheduled to receive, potentially foiling mail thieves looking to steal your identity—or just mail carriers who lose your letters. The service lets you track mail for the whole week, showing you scans of the letters you received each day for the past seven days.

As of now, it seems like USPS still has a few kinks to work out. In some cases, the service not only shows the user mail for direct members of their household, but also possibly a neighbor’s mail, too, if the user is in an apartment building—meaning the service might not be as private as it should be. (This happened to me, although not to other Mental Floss staffers who use the service.)

According to an automated email from the USPS explaining this mishap, it could be because the "unit/complex is not coded down to a unique delivery point barcode, which is a requirement for this service.”

So for some apartment buildings, this may be an accidental spying tool. The images are only of the outside of the envelope where the address window is, so at least it’s not revealing much. It’s clear that the service isn't perfect yet, but it’s still pretty useful in the meantime.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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