I like to travel light. On recent(ish) trips to Thailand, Japan and Egypt I've only taken carry-on luggage. I also don't like clutter in my flat. Combine these two things and you come to one, inescapably obvious conclusion:

Power cables suck.

Thus over the last few years I've ensured all my new gizmos are rechargeable via USB which, combined with a collection of small USB to wall plug / car cigarette lighter adaptors, means minimum cables in my luggage and my flat.

For example (bottom of pic), here's the cabling required to charge my X-Mini II travel speaker (mini-USB) on UK trips (noting the plug adaptor can be used for all my other devices too):

USB powered

A key discovery in achieving this was that even if the device, like my camera, won't natively charge over USB, there are always third party USB battery chargers available (I recommend Ebay) for very little money.

Alternatively, if you have your laptop with you, you can charge everything through that (some laptops will even leave a USB port live while sleeping for this exact purpose). Admittedly you'll have to take the laptop lead with you, but you can always buy a local figure of 8 or kettle lead if you want to avoid taking the adaptor for that (again Ebay is your friend - I got a US/Canada one for $3CA, delivered).

If you're travelling to more than one country you'll need a multi-adaptor, but there are some, like the green FujiFilm one pictured above, that cover every continent, so even that isn't to bad.

The beginning of the end for scenes like this?


Here's hoping.

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People often ask me... well, ok, actually: Someone recently asked me how I back up my data on my PC laptop*, and when I told them, they said "wow that's amazing! You should do a blog post on that!".

Well, ok, they didn't do that either, but here's one anyway.

Executive summary

I keep my latest stuff (photos just off my camera, docs I've just written) inside a folder synced with the online backup service Dropbox (that gives you a couple of gigs storage for free). I leave the rest of my data outside the backed up folder.

Every six months (depending on how much new stuff I create) I backup all my data to an external HDD and move the recent stuff out of the Dropbox folder to its more permanent location - freeing up space for another six months worth of new stuff.

The detail

First things first, I only back up my data, not my whole system. My install of Windows XP is about 4 years old now, and while it works fine, if my HDD died I'd think of it as an opportunity to clense the remnants of all those peripheral applications that have come and gone over the years. If the whole thing explodes, or some scumbag nicks it, the question of full-system backup becomes moot anyway.

For online backup I use Dropbox, which simply syncs a specified folder on your HDD with their servers. Since I don't work for the CIA this is fine. Dropbox also have a nice web interface and an iPhone app for getting at your files when away from your machine.

Unfortunately Dropbox use the same "absurd or free" pricing model as (the otherwise awesome) Spotify, thus I only have the 2GB they provide free to play with, which is no help considering I have 20GB of photos and 50GB of music. There are other online backup services of course, but they too only offer a little free space.

Thinking about this though, I realised that since I have a couple of external HDDs that I take manual copies of everything on to every six months or so, all I really need to back up is whatever has changed recently.

Thus I was able to rearrange my docs as follows:

/My Dropbox
-\Music Metadata
-\New Music
-\New Photos
-\Web Pages
\Photo Archive
\Web Pages Archive

Inside my Dropbox

  • "_INBOX" is my catch-all folder for downloads and anything I'm looking at right now that I might not keep.
  • "Docs" contains all my Office-type docs, and since the folder's so small they're all kept in there. Similarly "Web Pages" has a copy of everything I have online now.
  • "Music Metadata" is where I occasionally copy my iTunes XML file to. As I've mentioned here before I'm pretty obsessive about my music metadata, so I don't want to lose it. I can't make iTunes keep it there thanks to Apple's general inability to let you specify data locations (see also iPhone photo caches).
  • "New Music", "New Photos" - Music and photos I've added recently.

Outside my Dropbox

Contains everything that hasn't changed since I last took an external HDD backup: My older photos, my music library, websites that aren't live any more etc.

As with anything i post on this blog, this solution won't suit everyone, but for me it means I have everything backed up, instantly, for minimal effort and with zero cost. It'll do until this cloud computing thing takes off anyway.

(* I think it's fair to say if I had a Mac I'd just buy a Time Machine, because they're awesome and seamless. However I don't.)

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