Levenger 5-Year Journal Review

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Many of my long time readers and those that follow me on Twitter and elsewhere, know how long and deep my love affair with Levenger runs. I have been a customer for over 20 years now. Words are not enough to describe the quality of their products, the attention to detail, or the outstanding customer service. Properly maintained, Levenger products are made to last a lifetime and then be passed along to your descendants for theirs.

I recently purchased a Levenger 5-Year Journal and it is true to every word stated until now. For those not familiar with how a 5-Year Journal works, there are Pages for 366 days, including February 29, with 1 page per day, with 5 line entries – one for each year. It allows just enough to highlight the bullet points of a busy day but forces brevity. It is like Twitter for a private and bygone era. There is no pressure to catalog every detail of life or how you are feeling. Want to simply write a single thought or idea? Well, that is OK too. The beauty is that, those who have felt the pressure of maintaining a journal in the past (like myself) will likely feel far less so with such a low barrier to entry. Take just a few seconds at the end of the day and write what strikes you.

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The quality is extraordinary. The paper is bright, thick and takes fountain ink well with no feathering. The binding is clearly meant to last as a living document of record to be passed down for generations. The cloth and leather make it a stately addition to any desk or shelf. If I have one concern it is this – will I have enough for all of my years. I am seriously considering buying 10 more right now, for fear that I may not be able to 50 years from now.

Back that thang up!

A friend of mine recently suffered a devastating loss. His MacBook Pro hard drive died taking with it a bulk of his data. I know how it feels. It has happened to me in the past and I have seen it happen to many clients and friends. I can say from that experience that it only has to happen once for one to vow to never let it happen again. That said, I have seen more than a few people, even after suffering the loss of hours of work, years of photos, archived email, get a new machine, begin to rebuild their digital life, and still not backup. The reason…

Backup is a pain in the ass.

Let’s get real about this for a minute. Backup is not a solution to a problem — at least not one that is actively happening. I know people who have gone through several computers without ever having a problem. Why would they think about backup. Backup is insurance. It’s a solution for the “maybe” and not the “now”. The computers of today are, in general, as reliable as toasters. They just work.

Devices like the iPhone and the iPad won’t change that. In fact, the backup is “built in” — it just happens when you sync it. Increasingly one never has to “think” about backup.

All of this is true until, that one time when you go weeks without syncing or that first hard drive fails taking with it the bulk of your digital world and the maybe has become the now.

I employ what is often called the 3-2-1 backup strategy:

3 Backups (at least)
2 Onsite for failsafe immediate recovery.
1 Offsite in case of catastrophe (fire, flood, etc)

I think most experts would agree that this is the bare minimum of what one should have. That said, any one of the three is better than nothing at all.

Here is how I execute this strategy:

CrashPlan Pro — I am a big fan of CrashPlan. It just plain works. Quietly, in the background, performing incremental and recursive backups (backs up only changes after the first full backup and does file versioning and deletion protection to boot) and uses so few system resources I find I have to launch it every few weeks just to make sure it’s still working (It always is). I actually have the Pro version running on a Mac Mini, with a Drobo attached for storage, backing up not only my machines but also 20 of my client’s machines (I am providing offsite backup for them). Works around the clock, day in and day out. It even backs up to my server from anywhere, anytime I am connected to the Internet. If I go out of town to a conference, as soon as I connect to the hotel wifi it will back up any changes that occurred while on the plane. It’s pretty badass. CrashPlan does have a free version that works just as well backing up to an external drive or other machines. Furthermore, they also have a paid plan for offsite backup to their servers. Great product and a responsive company. Could not recommend it more.

SuperDuper — I also do a regular complete clone of my hard drive using SuperDuper. The advantage to to is that, should my hard drive fail, I have a complete bootable duplicate. Therefore, I can simply boot off of that clone and keep going just as if nothing happened. There is also Carbon Copy Cloner that does the same thing but I prefer SuperDuper for reasons I can’t explain (mainly the UI I think) since they do pretty much the same thing. I have Super Duper set so it just automatically updates the clone drive every time I plug it in.

Dropbox – Of course, all of my personal crucial files are in Dropbox. I keep all of my documents, several application databases, even the draft of the very post you are reading now is stored in Dropbox. If you are not familiar with this wonderful product and service, you owe it to yourself to check it out. Because Dropbox syncs between multiple machines and “the cloud” I basically have, in effect, an offsite backup. Eventually I will have a “real” offsite backup using CrashPlan Pro to backup to a server outside of my house as well as the one within but I am not quite there yet and, with the two full backups I already have, this is good enough for me now.

Now, if you are paying attention and are very keen, you may notice something about my setup – It is as ass pain free as possible. The tools I employ all work with little intervention or extra work from me. CrashPlan just works silently in the background. So does Dropbox. Even SuperDuper is set up to just work when I plug the right external drive in. I really feel that this is the special sauce that will get most people to back up regularly. Make it something you don’t have to “think” about. It was certainly true for me.

All of this is just to let you know that I get it. I know there are some of you who are paranoid and backup your backups. I know there are many more of you who will read this post, nod your heads in agreement, and still not actively backup because the work of doing something about it does not equal the maybeness of the problem. If that is you, I really do hope you will see the light and adopt something similar to my setup because hearing the post loss stories is painful and so very avoidable.

So, You Wanna Be a Mac Consultant…

If you enjoy the post below, even more is available in my book So, You Want To Be An Apple Consultant… (A Minimal Guide)

This is the new definitive guide for those considering becoming an Apple Consultant. The basics of everything you need to know, based on my near 20 years of experience, are covered here. In addition, the eBook is a “living” guide. It will be updated as more questions, feedback, thoughts, and topic ideas not yet covered come up. As updates are made, those who have purchased a copy will receive notification of future versions available free download.

Buy It Today!

Apple Consulting — A Minimal Guide

Now, on with the post…

So, You Wanna Be a Mac Consultant…

I think I am asked about once a week these days “Hey, how does one, hypothetically speaking, become a Mac Consultant like you?”.

There is just a wealth of information out there and, with the state of the economy, the information is growing. That said, probably the best way to get a sense of what it takes, especially in your area of the country, is to talk to lots of other consultants near you. Check out the official Apple Consultants Network page and find ones that are near you. Get in touch with them and let them know you are thinking about getting into it. Most everyone I know will be very helpful with what it is like in your area and how to get started. Is there a glut of Mac consultants, so getting clients is hard? Is there a particular niche that is in dire need where you are that you can fill? Things like this are useful to know and they will be the only ones who can tell you.

Secondly certification and training, it is crucial. It is not enough to think you know what you are doing, to have any credibility whatsoever you must prove it. Apple does have an official certification program that covers both Mac OS X client and server but also many of the Pro Apps. Take the test, get the paper, join the Apple Consultants Network – be legit. The Apple Blog recently had a good write up on this:

Complete Guide to Apple Certification and Training

As for me, I decided early on to focus on a market that was very underserved – individuals, very small businesses, and very small non-profits (generally 5 machines or less). These are folks that had no one to turn to and the larger tech consulting firms in town were charging up to $150.00 an hour and focused on medium sized businesses and creative agencies. Far more than most small folks and individuals can afford. Since my goal is to never be more than a “company of one” and my overhead and expenses are low, I could charge $75.00 per hour, half the standard rate, and serve this market at a price the people I wanted to serve could afford.

I should also state that I have held full time jobs for most of the time I have been doing this (over 10 years now). This is the sort of thing that may take years before you are able to have a client base large enough to be able to sustain you and yours. I recently read this post over at Lifehacker which is as good as any at explaining how to balance this fact of life so that it is sustainable:

How to Start Freelancing (Without Quitting Your Job)

Also, my friend Randy Murray recently offered up some good advice should you be starting from a point of not having a job (or still looking for one):

Make Your Own Way – Life Without Full-Time Employment

Finally (and this is the most important part), it takes a certain balance of personality traits to be able to do this day in and day out. I like to say it takes an even balance of patience and tenacity. You have to be the sort of person who will exhaust every possibility in search of a fix to a client problem and, then, have the know-how and finesse to tell them what to do next if you are not able to solve it. They are looking to you, hero, for the answer or, short of that, where to find it – because they haven’t a clue. You also have to be able to explain the same thing, over and over, multiple ways, until you find the one that clicks for each client. Then, once you figure out their ideal learning style, you have to remember and apply that to save you from having to do that dance over and over again, much to your mutual frustration.

Oh, and I know I said “finally” above, but we are still on the same subject of personality types so, I get a pass… What you want to be is a Mac Consultant, and you will be, but it won’t be your primary job. Your actual job description is this:

Frustration Removal Agent and Simplifier of Difficult Things

(P.S. Don’t bother using that on a business card by the way, I already beat you to it.)

Seriously, before you even begin to troubleshoot a problem, your first task will usually be to talk your client down from a ledge of frustration and angst so high – from whatever crisis has brought you in – that they will not even hear the words coming out of our mouth until you do. Then, you will calmly explain to them that there is no problem that does not have some solution, even if that solution is throwing the damn thing out the window. You have now not only reassured them but also empathized with their frustration. Now, you can get to work doing that thing that the paper you earned said you were good at.

In closing, I really hope this gives you a nudge in the right direction. I can confirm, from years of experience, that there is nothing more challenging or rewarding than doing something you love and getting paid for it.

Update: I’ve updated and expanded the tips given in this post recently. Please check out So You Wanna Be A Mac Consultant Now… next.

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