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November 2016
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February 2017

So long, Crashplan

I have been a CrashPlan customer for at least five years. I subscribe to its "family plan," which allows me to back up the multiple computers I own. My current plan expires next month, but I will not be renewing. Part of the reason is the $150 price, but the straw that broke the camel's back is their poor customer service.

I have a Mac mini that is an important part of my home automation system. It's an older model that can't be upgraded to newer versions of the OS. That's fine, it just quietly and reliably ticks away 24/7. Earlier this year, CrashPlan sent me an email saying that because it's running an older OS, they would no longer support backing it up to their servers.

That's OK, I thought, I can use the CrashPlan software to back up to a local, external hard drive instead. I could live without the cloud backup for this one computer. I wrote to CrashPlan asking them to clarify if the local backup would still work, even after they turned off the cloud back up.

I posed that question to CrashPlan support on February 18, 2016. On April 5th, after I pestered them several times, someone finally responded. With a generic, canned email that did not answer my question at all. It took them two months to send a non-answer! I wrote them back, asking again, and still have not received an answer to my question. The support tickets remains open to this day.

And, go figure, my ancient mini continues to back up to their cloud, well past their date when it was supposed to stop working.

When this CrashPlan customer service fiasco occurred, I made Arq my primary backup tool. Frankly, I love it. It's better designed than CrashPlan, and the tech support has been timely, friendly, and accurate. For cloud storage, I have Arq back up to Amazon Glacier, and Amazon CloudDrive. The former is inexpensive, but geeky. The latter, just $60 a year for unlimited storage, assuming you're already a Prime subscriber.

If you're a Mac or Windows user, I highly recommend that you follow my lead and switch to Arq.


Don't host your business on Fatcow.com

I've been a Fatcow.com customer for well over a decade. I use their shared hosting plan to serve many of my projects, experiments, personal pages and email. You may be familiar with them, as they aggressively market stupid-cheap hosting services (which increase dramatically in price every year after you sign up.) Clearly, having stuck with them for so long, I've been satisfied.

Actually, "mostly satisfied" would be a better way to put it. I've endured their occasionally flakey email servers incorrectly bouncing mail, their billing flubs, and their silent refusal to even acknowledge my repeated requests to support WebDAV.

Last year I signed up for a remote monitoring service and shortly thereafter started getting fairly frequent reports that my website was offline. Maybe just a few minutes at a time, maybe an hour or so, but on regular basis. This isn't that unusual with a shared hosting account, but it was enough to make me start looking at alternatives, such as Amazon Web Services. AWS is inexpensive, but intimidating, so I didn't actually make the jump.

Then Fatcow committed what I considered to be the ultimate customer service sin. A few months ago I was traveling and couldn't fall asleep in my hotel room. It was close to midnight when an email from Fatcow tech support arrived, notifying me that they had turned off my website. The ungrammatical message said that a php script of mine was consuming too many resources.

The script was a photo gallery/album that I deployed to create The Shopping Bag Museum. (One of my wife's projects.) It was a script provided by, installed by, and recommended by Fatcow. In fact, it was part of their "InstallCentral" package that touted maintenance-free, easy web services.

The rude message from their India-based tech support informed me that the script was no longer supported and was no longer allowed on their server. And because of this, my website had been disabled. Not just the photo gallery, but my whole account.

My entire website, all my email, and the five domains they host for me, all turned off, without warning, in the middle of the fucking night. Because I was using a script they provided to me.

They could have easily turned off the script, which I did in about 2 minutes of work, but instead they decided to completely shut off my account. And to emphasize, there was no warning, no notification that their script was now outlawed, and they took this action during the middle of the night. (It was probably afternoon in India.)

Four hours later, after several frantic email exchanges, everything was back online. The only lasting damage being the complete destruction of any trust I had in Fatcow. Fair warning to you, my dear reader.


An iMac with three displays

I've long wanted a portrait monitor for my Mac, frankly ever since I saw the original Radius Pivot display way back in 1990. I decided it was high time I had one. But I already have two monitors, and I was unsure if my system would support a third.

There is a lot of confusion information on the 'net about using three displays with an iMac. Part of the confusion is caused by different iMac models, different graphics cards, different monitors, and the usual amount of Internet know-nothings pontificating with apparent authority. I'm a professional in this field, and after hours of research, I was still only 80% confident in my conclusion that I could add a third monitor.

I settled on the ridiculously named "HP Z27n - Narrow Bezel 27" IPS LED Monitor - Quad HD". (K7C09A8#ABA) On the HP website, it currently sells for about $480. On Amazon, HP sells it direct for $382. Go figure why their website is higher.

Why did I choose this monitor? It's the size I wanted, I trust HP products, and most importantly -- it's one of the few models that pivots to portrait orientation. (Pro tip: Search for "swivel" to find displays that support this feature, that's the word most manufacturers seems to use.)

The result was successful The HP display works perfectly as the third monitor on my iMac. But as I mentioned, my iMac might not be the same as your iMac, so here are the details about my model:

About This Mac

I have an Apple LED 27" Cinema Display connected to one of the iMac's Thunderbolt ports. The HP display is connected to the other Thunderbolt port. Both monitor are running at full resolution/refresh. (2560 x 1440 60 Hz for the HP.)

This combination works beautifully. If you have a different iMac, different video card, different displays, or you want to daisy chain the displays -- you're on your own.