Chasing Rainbows

I actually do chase rainbows. The weather patterns where we live are very conducive to their creation and we’ve become practiced at knowing beforehand that the odds of a rainbow occurring are high. Usually a stormy east sky and the sun setting clear in the west. We must see over a dozen rainbows a year and about half of those will be double rainbows. We love them, and when they show their stripes we will go on a chase to find the best vantage for a photograph or to just enjoy them.

Of course, rainbows are ephemeral. They’ll shine, they glow, they’ll wax and wane and finally their gone. Something that grows from almost nothing, becomes amazing and beautiful and then disappears. They are something to be enjoyed while they’re between the wax and the wane.

Not everyone gets to see rainbows, but everyone should have rainbows to chase. An impossible dream, a goal, something that’s in reach, if not quite within grasp, but worth striving for. It’s best if that rainbow cannot be grasped, but only chased, for it’s the pursuit of rainbows that makes each of us what we are.

Rainbows are worthy of being chased and I’m still chasing!

— By Jim Harlan


I remember when I was a little kid encountering ‘spin’ for the first time. I was playing ping pong with an older friend and he would put ‘english’ on the ball each time he returned or served the ball. The resulting spin would make my return go to the left or right or dive down into the net or fly long, It didn’t take long for me to figure out what was happening, but even then I could do little to counter his skill in manipulating the spin on the ping pong ball. I distinctly remember thinking that he was somehow cheating!

Of course I wanted to learn to ‘cheat’ too, but try as I might, I had a most difficult time coming up to his level of skill. I never did get very good at it and my friend always crushed me in our ping pong games.
Over time I encountered spin or english in just about every physical activity and slowly came to appreciate it and realize that it was not cheating, but was the essence of many games of skill. A bowler, a baseball pitcher, a golfer, a soccer player, a billiard player and many others all employ spin to excel in their sports.

But everyone knows that the most prolific use of spin is in politics. A real world event happens that is not to some politician’s liking and he will spin the explanation of what happened in way that favors his actions or point of view. Indeed they can just about turn anything on its head in order to be viewed on the right side of things and curry favor with potential voters. Major political players will have a “spinmiester” on staff who specializes in the craft. These wizards of spin will also try to unspin the spin of their opponents in an unending back and forth.

It’s kinda like ping pong played by masters of spin. Amazing skills, but I still think they’re cheating!

– – – by Jim Harlan

The Three W’s of Backing Up

We are all guilty of not backing up some piece of important data at one time or another. When disaster strikes we look pretty foolish for not backing up the data. We then make a quick and usually bad choice and select the wrong backup solution. If you are not an IT guru but the normal small business manager, you have to make very important backup decisions without the background or experience required. That leads me to the three W’s: Why, When, and Where of backing up to help inform you.

Why: Simply because data loss can happen to anyone.
There are many reasons why consumers and businesses experience data loss:

Hard drive failure. According to a recent study by Google, an average of 1.7% of drives fail within a year and more than 8.6% of drives fail after three years.

Hardware failure. Failure of other hardware, such as hard drive controllers or memory, can cause data corruption.
Improper system shut-downs. Data can become corrupted when systems are improperly shut down, due to a power failure, or because a user simply presses the power-off switch before properly shutting down the operating system.

Computer viruses and malware. Some studies report that up to 7% of data loss is attributable to computer viruses and malware.
Disasters and on-site losses. Site-related data loss can occur due to power surges, fire, flooding, earthquake and theft.

Disgruntled employees. Sadly, much loss comes at the hands of companies’ own employees. Disgruntled employees may intentionally delete files, format their hard disks or attack server-based data that they routinely access to do their jobs.

Human error. Even happy employees can be responsible for data loss if they accidentally delete files or spill a cup of coffee that results in a computer failure.

Theft and loss. A recent Ponemon Institute study, sponsored by Dell, revealed that up to 12,000 notebooks are lost in airports. Fifty-three percent of the business travelers polled in the survey said their notebooks carry sensitive corporate data, but a surprising 42% of the respondents admitted that they do not backup their data. Amazingly, the survey found that 65% to 70% of the lost notebooks are never reclaimed.

When: It all depends on your business needs.
Frequency of data change and the risk of data loss are the primary factors that should impact the decision of when to backup. The type of computer being backed up can also be a factor in the when question. A desktop, for example, is not usually left on after hours so these need to be backed up during business hours.

Where: Data can be backed up to tape drives, CDs or DVDs, USB flash drives, direct-attached USB flash drives, or the Internet. As with backup strategies, each media selection offers advantages and disadvantages.

Tape Drives. Because of the relatively attractive ratio of cost per Gigabyte, tape drives have been a traditional choice of many IT departments for backing up huge amounts of data. Tape is a sequential media and, although write speeds to tape can exceed those of writes to disks in some cases, locating and restoring files from tapes can be more time-consuming than restoring files from disk-based backups. Automated robotic tape-changing mechanisms can reduce the work of tape rotation and managing large numbers of tapes.

CD or DVDs. These optical media types offer relatively limited capacities (700MB and 4.3GB respectively) but have the advantage of being inexpensive. New Blue Ray high-density DVDs offer double the capacity of traditional DVDs. The most common CD-R and DVR-R formats can be written to only once and their volumes closed to prevent future changes. Write-once media is required by federal regulations for archival storage for some industries. There has been some discussion about whether or not CD-R and DVD-R media types are appropriate for long term archival purposes because of their relatively short life span. Inexpensive aluminum-based CDs can have a life span that is relatively short.

USB Flash Drives. With capacities ranging up to 128GB, flash drives offer a convenient, if not inexpensive, way to backup data. Many consumer-oriented flash drives lack encryption. Since it is fairly easy to misplace or lose a flash drive, these are generally inappropriate for business use. However, some companies offer drives with automatic 256-bit encryption as well as models that are FIPS 140 level 2 compliant for federal government use.

Direct-attached USB Drives. Recent advances in technology have expanded the capacity of single disks to 2TB (terabytes) and have pushed the prices of USB/Firewire direct attached external devices down to about $200. Devices that are 1 TB are available for less than $100. These devices offer a large amount of storage at a reasonable cost. They are easy to connect and they provide rapid recovery times, but they may become damaged if they are moved to be stored off-site.

Internet Cloud-based Storage. The increasingly fast broadband speeds available to both consumers and enterprises have produced an entire industry of companies offering online backup services. Many of these online backup service providers offer geographically redundant storage in data centers that are staffed 24/7 by IT professionals. Corporate data is encrypted prior to transmission to the storage providers, so while these providers may store a company’s data, they do not have access to it. Online storage can be a viable backup option for small to medium businesses that do not have a dedicated IT staff to help manage the backup process. Importantly, online storage ensures that mission-critical data is stored off-site so that data is not lost in the event of a disaster, such as a fire or flood.

September is RESTORE Month

Backup, backup , BACKUP! You hear this every day. Many of you have listened and setup some kind of backup system for your data (good for you!). In the last few months we have had some calls that required a restore of the files. This turned out to be an educational moment for many people including some of the IT techs. Let me tell you the whole story.

We got a call to recover a deleted journal in the accounting system. We said sure and where is the backup of the SQL database files? There was a long pause on the phone then the person said that they had an IT technician set up a whole system backup that ran every night to tape. We asked if they had last night’s tape and was told sure it was already in the drive. So we tried to use the backup package that was installed by the technician to recover the data, but there was a password that we needed to enter to access the recovery section.

No one knew this password except for the technician, who was unreachable by phone. After several hours of waiting the technician called in and we were able to access the recovery section of the software. We were unable to find any version of the database on the tape! The backup software was not able to access the database since it was locked by SQL at the time of the backup so it skipped the database files. So after several hours of waiting the person had to rekey the journal that was deleted.

This call raised several issues that are common with backup software in use today. First is the user did not know how to use the software or knew the password. Second is that no one checked to make sure that data files actually got backed up. Third is that only one person in the entire world (the technician) really knew how the software was configured and if it was working properly. So we want to encourage you all to make September restore month. Please make sure that whatever backup system you use that you do the following:

  • Check to make sure you are backing up the right files.
  • Know how to check if all files are being backed up.
  • Have at least two people know how to restore a file.
  • Restore at least one file a month. (Do not destroy or overwrite any critical data!)
  • Know how to restore files to a different disk location.

Computers and Power Brownouts

Power to the people! In the days when we made coffee in electric percolator coffee pots, and washers and dryers only had two settings, and refrigerators did not give you ice and cold water in the door, electrical power could vary in strength without causing damage to the things plugged in.

These days the entire workplace and home is riddled with “Smart” devices that if the electrical power fluctuates too much in either direction the smart devices will burn out. Most of us have heard of surge protectors by now and that is an important safety device to have protecting your devices. In most new homes there is even a whole house surge protector placed in the electrical box so all devices are protected from power surges.

The other side of the electrical power problem known by us old folks is a “brownout.” That is when the electrical power is not lost but is coming in too weak to properly power the devices. For a computer a brownout can cause just as much damage as a surge. To protect against brownouts and the damage they can cause computers, you need to have an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that can condition the power to the computer. Not all UPSs will protect you from a brownout, so make sure to ask or call the manufacturer of your UPS.

You may be thinking you are safe because you turn off your computers before leaving work and do not need the protection. Unless you remove the electrical power completely to the computer it is still at risk since electrical power is still getting to the computer.

One of our customers recently lost power and the building generator turned on. The computers that were turned off and not protected by a UPS all got fried. So please make sure you have a UPS that conditions the power for every computer.

You should also back up information on every computer. The 9G Backup system lets you add up to 250 computers to a single account so all your computers can be protected.

Disaster Recovery 101—Have a Plan!

Whether it’s a storm knocking out your power lines, a computer virus disabling your software, or a fire, your operation can be disrupted by any number of threats. When that happens, a strong disaster recovery plan can make the difference between a brief hiccup in your operations and a costly blow to your organization.
Because your operation involves several connected parts, a number of elements will go into a good disaster recovery strategy.
How do you define a “disaster”? If you hear the word and immediately imagine an 8.5 magnitude earthquake or a category 5 hurricane, you’re correct – natural disasters are probably the most threatening types of disasters in terms of damage, potential loss of human life and disruption to operation operations. But the reality is that there are many other types of disasters that can cause significant operation disruptions. Savvy operation directors and managers should be prepared for disasters or disruptions, which come in many forms.
Some disasters are man-made, such as industrial accidents, nuclear accidents or terrorist attacks. Natural disasters range vastly from blizzards and hurricanes to lightening, fire, or flooding. Even technical failures like a malicious computer virus should be considered disasters because of how detrimental the downtime can be to your operation.
All of these scenarios, and many others, could create an immediate need for decision makers within your organization to flip the switch into recovery mode. Your disaster recovery plan should answer the questions “What do we do now?” and “What is the chain of command?”
The process of creating a disaster recovery plan should involve operation management who are fully committed in investing the necessary time and resources. A plan can be relatively simple, or you might hire an external consultant to guide the process. Regardless of its complexity, here are a few key components of the disaster recovery planning process:

  • Prioritizing internal functions – In the event of a disaster or operation disruption, which operation functions will need to be up and running first? For example, depending upon your industry or size, you may need to develop a plan for getting your accounting department’s technology up and running first, followed by other departments. Your plan should outline the IT resources that will be required to address the most time- sensitive operation functions.
  • Restoring data – Is your data stored at an alternate site? Are you backing up to a cloud or web-based backup system regularly? Your disaster recovery plan should clearly spell out how your data will be retrieved.
  • Minimizing downtime – What is your strategy for minimizing the amount of time your IT systems may be down? How long can you afford to be down? For some operations, the answer is “zero downtime.” If this is the case for your operation, your disaster recovery plan must include a strategy for backing up and restoring your IT systems, or running two synchronized systems, which is costly but sometimes necessary.

Now go and develop a plan that is right for your organization.  The internet has many free tools that will help you along the way. Search for Disaster Recovery Plan and you should find lots of information to help you.

Pro Fund Accounting Version 7002 Available!

We have recently released version 7002 of Pro Fund Accounting, our government accounting software!
Please go to Help and click on Check for Updates to update Pro Fund Accounting to version 7002.
In this release there is a management utility which requires the Microsoft .NET 4.5 Framework to be installed.
The Pro Fund Accounting downloads page has a direct link to the Microsoft .NET 4.5 Framework:

Please note that .Net 4.5 cannot be installed on Windows XP or lower.
If you are interested in learning more about our government accounting software, Pro Fund Accounting, please visit

PFA Works Preview Site Updated!

I know it has been a while since we updated our PFA Works Preview site, but we have been working hard on adding functionality to PFA Works.
Now that PFA Works is getting closer and closer to being released, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you some of the screens that are mostly completed.
The desgin work on these screens has been completed on these screens, but there are a still a few bugs that need to be worked out. There shouldn’t be any more major design changes to the screens that you see posted on the PFA Works Preview site though.
Check out the PFA Works Preview site and see all of the hard work we have been doing to bring PFA Works closer to a finished product.
Check out the Pro Fund Accounting Works Preview Site.

Pro Fund Accounting v. 7000 Available Now!

It seems we all have to make changes in life that seem strange and unfair. Cogitate’s development team has had to go back and change the way we do things in order to properly support Windows 8 and beyond.
While we were learning the new way of doing things we added in a few extras.
We are pleased to announce the release of the next update to the Pro Fund Accounting package.
“What is all the hoopla about?” you may be asking.

One of the many things that have changed is the output file management in Pro Fund Accounting – things like where the direct deposit file is located or where the state trunkline file is placed have all been reworked to add flexibility to the fund accounting software.
Another large change is the new Crystal Reports system which allows printing reports on the latest hardware.
We added a new installation and a program update monitoring system that automatically checks for updates.
This release also added support for photos of equipment, inventory, and personnel.
The Pro Fund Accounting software was updated to operate correctly on multiple monitors.
We added a program to export paystubs and email them to employees.
And last, but not least, we combined our voter registration software into the Pro Fund Accounting Municipal suite.

This release will come to you differently; a representative from Cogitate will contact you to schedule the update to Pro Fund Accounting, version 7000. If you have any questions or if you would like the update sooner, then you may contact George at 866-634-9991 (ext. 9) to be at the front of the line.

Help needed for our Pro Fund Accounting website!

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