Gadgets can help protect your home


Helpdesk

Q: In our Sunday paper you discussed backing up your system. In it you mentioned leaning toward online back-up services instead of using an external hard disk. But you didn’t give a reason. I have been concerned about online backups since it seems to be nothing more than storing all your information in another concentrated location where someone can hack it. What do you see that is so exceptional and secure about “The Cloud.” —Andy Monroe

A: Your back-up external hard disk will, at some point, fail. But professional services use so many redundant systems to save your backup that your data will stay safe.

Now let’s look at some of the ways your external hard disk can fail.

If a fire or some other disaster destroys your house, odds are it will destroy the computer and the external disk. So the data in your computer is gone and so is your backup.

Many times a voltage surge or even a lightning strike will destroy your computer’s hard disk. It probably also will also destroy your external hard disk. (A surge protector or a UPS won’t protect against a direct strike).

An online storage site will keep your data safe even if your home is destroyed, even if lightning strikes. And the online site uses sophisticated security systems that protect the data from hackers (and even from prying eyes of its own employees).

As a bonus, when you use online storage, you can get your data from anywhere. So if you’re on a trip to the opposite coast, getting your data is as simple as logging onto the online site.

Send technology questions to Bill Husted at tecbud@bellsouth.net.

I have had a special interest in high-tech home security ever since a fellow with a baseball bat hammered his way through a glass door and into my home.

It happened around 5 a.m. And I can promise you, something like that wakes you up faster than the strongest coffee. I heard the sound of the home alarm going off and the crash of the bat hitting and breaking the double-paned safety glass of the door. Just as I began to process what was going on, I started to hear the crunch of glass underfoot as the man walked over the glass shards and into the house.

Luckily the rest of the family was on a trip, so I only had to worry about myself. I grabbed a pistol and rushed toward the man. He ran out the open door and, last I saw him, he was vaulting over the fence in my backyard. To this day my wife claims it wasn’t the pistol that scared him; it was the sight of an old bald man in his underwear.

Our home alarm wasn’t of much help. The sound of the door breaking woke me up just fine – no siren needed. And that shortcoming started me on a journey looking for ways technology could increase the protection at my home. Frankly I wasn’t so interested in protecting the belongings.My total emphasis was on ways to give advance warning when we are at home and an intruder is trying to get in. I wanted a warning that would come before the bat hits the glass.

In my search for a way to buy a few minutes or even seconds warning I came across various outdoor sensors. I ended up buying a motion sensor detector system. Had that system been in use when my intruder arrived, the alarm would have alerted me before he reached my door.

I’ve had, despite my initial fears, very few false alarms with the system. I have the beam adjusted to cover a height that prevents small animals from setting off the alarm.

While you are adding sensors to your property also pick up – if you don’t already have them – outdoor lights that turn on when they detect motion. I doubt the light would scare away many burglars but it does light things up so that – if there’s an intruder in the dark outside your home – you’ll have an easier time seeing them.

Any large home supply store – Home Depot or Lowe’s, for example – will have these lights. They’re easy to install especially if you use them to replace existing outdoor lights. Just be sure that you turn off the circuit breaker that controls electricity to that fixture. Not only should you turn off the breaker, but you should test the wiring after that using a meter or other device to make sure the electricity is actually off. If you have any doubts at all, hire an electrician.

One thing that immediately came to mind when I started my search for home security items was an outdoor camera. I didn’t end up buying and installing one. But I can see the value of having cameras at your outside doors. That way, if you or a child is home alone and the door bell sounds, you can take a look at the caller. You can find these cameras using a search engine and this phrase “outdoor wireless cameras.” My only advice here is to avoid the very cheapest cameras; the video quality is so bad that you would have difficulty telling the difference between a raccoon and a robber.

You can also find complete indoor alarm systems that can be installed by the do-it-yourselfer. I think these systems are a bad idea. Having a good home alarm system is a linchpin of home security and way too important to rely on a DIY job. If you disagree, use the search terms “self install home security systems” to find a system. And I will admit that a self-installed system is way better than nothing at all.

Instead of learning how to discourage hackers from invading your computer, we’ve talked about something much more important – keeping your home and family safe. Don’t wait for a wakeup call from an intruder wielding a baseball bat.