ICE Entries and, Your address book is a database

ICE = In Case of Emergency.  First responders are learning to find the cell phone of an unconscious person and look for an ICE = In Case of Emergency entry.  The numbers in that entry are to people who would be useful or should be notified that the cell phone owner needs help.  Help the EMT help you by creating the entry, and by making sure your friends and family members create ICE entries for their own phones.

Along the same lines, consider that most phone address books can hold more than phone numbers, especially for “smart” phones that sync to a PC and have a “notes” field for each contact entry.

I wish I could remember how the subject came up.  Someone asked when I had my most recent tetanus shot.  I pulled out my cell phone and went to “T” in the address book.  I had the answer.  My friend was astounded. (A friend recently needed an emergency tetanus shot, and went to the emergency room on a Saturday night. The total bill was $426, with only $27 of that being for the injection itself and the remainder for ancillary ER services.)

My dogs each have entries in my phone, with their microchip information and date of last rabies shot.

For that matter, the date of my own rabies series is filed under “R,” but that’s a long and different story.  (Make CERTAIN the administering nurse codes the injection as “treatment for exposure,” not “prophylaxis.”)

I know a woman who keeps her son’s preference in beer in his entry’s Notes field.  When he visits, she knows what to buy.  (I suppose, if one had enough sons with different preferences, it might be easier to create a “beer” entry, but that’s not the case in this particular family.)

I have the rental rates and minimum head counts for my favorite meeting space in the Notes field of its entry.

I’m usually pretty well prepared for planned medical visits, and I can assemble the relevant records a day or two before.  However, “tetanus” (in particular; there are others that have a similar unexpected quality) is one medical outcome that is often unexpected, the result of an unplanned trip to the ER or urgent care clinic.  I will almost always have my phone with me on that kind of visit.  Common sense note:  the notes I make are somewhat cryptic, and I don’t keep my entire medical history on a device that can be pickpocketed out of my purse.  However, I’d rather a thief find out my tetanus history than get a shot I don’t really need because it hasn’t been very long since the last one.

Cell phone, phone home!

If you lost your cell phone and an honest and helpful person found it, could they get it back to you? If you’ve filled out the owner information, and if your cell is not password-protected, probably yes. If your phone is protected, though, the finder might not be able to get to the owner information. The same logic applies to cameras, calendars, paper-based address books, and planners. A phone number on the inside cover, or inside battery cover (Sharpie), is usually accessible to anyone who would take the trouble to find an owner.

Don’t use your cell number on your cell phone.*

I found a well-used planner in the exit lane of our office parking lot once, where it had fallen after its person had placed it on the roof of the car and forgot it. It had six weeks of future appointments and no owner information. Because it was clear it belonged to a Realtor®, I left it at the front desk of (one of) the attorneys’ offices in the building, in hopes that the owner had a) been at a closing and b) would remember the last stop. Never heard.

A return address label in the front, along with a cell phone number, would have solved that problem much faster. One of my friends adds a “reward for return” note next to her phone number.

*I have a friend who locked the keys to a padlock ON the hasp of the padlock… For sure, he never lost the keys.

20091109 Update:  In the process of packing up my PC to carry it to a convention, I wondered how many other people might have the same model (few, but this is a theoretical thought).  Then I realized I had no identifying information ON my PC itself!  Oops!  Added an address label with my phone number on the bottom of the case, and another inside the battery pack, and one in the laptop sleeve, and on the charger.  I’m certain I’ve missed something, but I’ve covered what I can think of at the moment.

Are you on top of your credit report?

A friend received a solicitation from a credit monitoring agency that offered to keep on top of her credit report for $300 / year.  Although I’m as sensitive to the risk of identity theft as anyone outside the ranks of security professionals, I also know there’s a lot of fun to be had for $300 a year.  That’s almost the annual cost of a cat!

In the ensuing conversation, it became obvious that my friend was not aware she could get a free credit report from each of the three monitoring agencies every year.  The website that provides this service is: (You have to order the free reports from this site; you will be charged for reports from the individual reporting bureaus’ websites. You also have to pay to see your actual credit score, rather than just your account information, total debt ratio, and payment history.)  What you do about what you see in your report is outside my skill set.  However, I can help you stay on top of the situation without too much remembering.

The trick to getting cheaper-than-$300 year-round coverage is to order one report from one agency every four months.  Four months later, order a report from the next agency, and so on, and you’ll never be too far from having looked at what the agencies know about you.

Either a paper-tickler file reminder or a repeating Task (Outlook), scheduled to recur every four months, can be used as a reminder to go out to the site and look.  Because the site tracks your visits, it can be helpful to note the actual date of your report in the Task’s Note field (or on your 3×5 card) so that you wait 366 days for the next one from that agency.

On-line backups / flood insurance

The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago.  The next best time is now.

One of my external hard drives is dying. On the way to the store to buy a replacement, I thought that perhaps I should price on-line backup first. If I am willing to spend $80 on a piece of hardware that offers more of the same protection I already have, I should be willing to spend at least that much for a different type of protection altogether. Gina Tripani’s Upgrade Your Life recommends; $5 / month buys backup for unlimited amounts of data. Discounts apply when you prepay for two years at a time.

I forked over my credit card number, downloaded and installed the application, and clicked the “backup now” button. The application did its thing and came back to tell me that it would take five days to back up my hard drive at my current connection speed, a little less if I could accept some performance degradation in my system.

Wow. Five days’ of data? (15G, BTW) Five days to PROTECT my data? Good thing my (internal) hard drive isn’t already making funny noises!  At the end of the first 24 hours, the system reports that 5.1G have been backed up, so perhaps they’ve overestimated.  (The FAQ tell me that if I have to disconnect, Mozy will pick up where we left off.)  Future backups will be incremental and take much less time.

It was at this point that I thought about flood insurance, a useful policy to consider for people who live in the path of hurricanes (among other forces that make water cross property lines).  Flood insurance is sold with a 30-day delay.  You can’t wake up one rainy morning and buy coverage that will be in effect by nightfall.  You have to decide that floods are a possible risk for your home and take action long before it is possible to know that any given rainfall will threaten your property.

For almost all of my readers, the relative risk of hard drive failure: flood damage is 1:0.  Unless you have a much faster connection, or less data on your hard drive, than I do, the time between deciding to back up online and BEING backed up online is measured in days.  Get that tree planted now.

And now, a word from your hard drive

I miss corporate IT; people who ran incremental backups nightly and could restore files across servers after hard drives started making funny noises and screens turned blue. I have to solve these problems mostly myself now. Agreed, there are excellent private tech support people in the area who can help. But backing up my hard drive is my problem.

Stephane Grenier, of Landlord Max, wrote about testing backups yesterday. I’ve pondered this problem. It’s a partial solution to dutifully kick off a complete backup to an external hard drive once a week or so. But if I never test the restore, I don’t really know for certain that I’ve done much good. I have at least looked at the files on the hard drive, although I still have to take them to a (trusted) friend’s PC and see if I can get what I need on a different system. I admit I have not tested the backup that puts selected files on the internet automatically. Emails appear the next morning saying the backup ran and XZ MB of data was copied… but it could be garbage. Next action: Check this.

When I had an office outside my house, I would regularly copy off highly-important files to CDs and kept those CDs in my cube, figuring that it was unlikely that both locations would be hit by a fire on the same night (less so for a hurricane strike, however…). One local photographer mails external hard drive backups to her parents in another state.

As with any property insurance, I need to consider the amount of money at risk against what I would spend to protect it. In this case, the “money” is both cash (hard drive recovery starts in the lower thousands) and time. The unknown-to-me variables are those of house fire or catastrophic storm (or errant dog, or diet drink), and hard drive failure. The outlay is the cost of an online backup service, and perhaps a second external hard drive (maybe a thumb drive?), stored at a friend’s house and updated regularly (which carries its own additional time cost).

When it comes to keeping paper records, David Allen has two suggestions: If in doubt, throw it out, and, If in doubt, keep it. If you’re not backing up your hard drive regularly, sooner or later, you will have selected the first option for your digital data.