If I were any good at keeping New Year's resolutions, I'd be 40 pounds lighter, my office would no longer be a junk pile and no toilet seat in our home would ever be left in the upright position.
But one resolution I can stick to is backing up our computers more often, thanks to a generation of inexpensive portable hard drives that have plenty of room for important stuff.
This week I tried out Iomega's 160-gigabyte eGo drive (about $110) and it was a pleasure to use. All I had to do was plug it into my computer's USB port. It doesn't require a separate power supply or cord.
I should warn you about my biases here. The days of backing up a system to CDs or even DVDs are gone - there's just too much stuff on our hard drives. Rewritable CD/DVD drives are still too slow for backup. With an external hard drive, backups are fast and relatively painless - so they're well worth the investment.
Although it's possible to set up an external drive as a networked storage device for multiple computers - or to share a drive that's hooked up to one particular computer - these systems can be a pain to get working.
It's a lot easier to plug in a portable drive. Also, once you've followed the first rule of backups (making one in the first place), a portable drive makes it easy to follow the second rule - keeping your backup somewhere else.
Given those requirements, Iomega's eGo is about as portable as a drive gets. Measuring 5 1/4 inches long by 3 1/2 inches wide by 3/4 of an inch deep - and weighing less than 8 ounces - it's a shade too large for a shirt pocket but will slip easily into a briefcase, laptop compartment or handbag.
What really makes the eGo portable is that it draws power from the computer's USB port, so it doesn't need a separate power cord or adapter.
The downside to this arrangement is that not all USB ports are created equal. Some deliver more power than others - and you may run into one that doesn't provide enough juice to drive a 5,400-rpm hard drive.
Iomega deals with that possibility by building an extension jack into its USB cable to draw additional power from a second USB port - assuming there's a free one left on your computer. If not, you'll need a self-powered USB hub. At $15 to $20 on the street, these are useful accessories to have in any event.
Setting up the eGo was simple. Following the brief instructions, I plugged one end of the cable into a USB port on my PC and the other into the drive. There's no on-off switch. A few seconds later my computer beeped and the eGo showed up on the device list when I clicked the My Computer icon on the Windows desktop.
At this point, the eGo behaves like any other hard drive - and it will work with both PCs and Macs. For scheduled backups, however, Iomega provides only Windows software - and you have to download that from the company's Web site. It should have been included on a CD.
The backup program, EMC Retrospect Express HD, made it reasonably easy to schedule regular backups of a whole drive or just specific folders, but took almost three hours to back up my underpopulated C: drive, which contained only 50 gigabytes of data.
That makes larger drives an overnight job for most users, but successive backups are much shorter because they only involve files that are new or have changed. Also, there are plenty of backup programs around if you don't like the one Iomega supplies.
Despite its clunky backup software, Iomega's eGo performed as advertised. It's reasonably priced, ultra portable and easy to install and use.
You'll find similar portable drives on retailers' shelves - some in larger capacities - from Maxtor, Seagate, Western Digital and LaCie, as well as Iomega. For backups and transporting large files from one place to another, they're hard to beat.
Department of Gadgetary Overkill: The most entertaining aspect of writing this column is trying out gadgets whose inventors have applied technology to a seemingly trivial problem that heretofore has escaped its clutches.
Consider the eponymously named Flushlight, from Luminosity LLC., a Washington, D.C., marketing firm that has made it safer for us to stumble from bed to bathroom in the middle of the night.
The Flushlight ($15 each or two for $25) replaces the flush handle of your toilet with one that sports a tiny, glowing amber light powered by a 9-volt battery.
When you have been guided through the darkness by its cheery glow, touching the handle once produces a brighter glow long enough for you to complete the task at hand and return to bed before the Flushlight dims again.
Space limitations and a desire to avoid bad potty jokes prohibit a more detailed discussion of the device. Let's just say that it works, and that according to my wife, it's more useful to men than women.
To see a video of my efforts to install the Flushlight, visit www.baltimoresun.com/himowitz
For more information on the Flushlight, visit: www.theflushlight.com