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An essay prompt can help your students explore what drives them, showing them a reason to take on challenges in learning.

When students enter the schoolhouse without a sense of positive purpose, it is difficult for them to connect their varied learning experiences and other opportunities into a coherent whole that shapes their lives. Without a purpose, they may lack a strong reason to learn, to take on challenges, or to behave well. An enduring sense of purpose typically emerges in adulthood, but having a primary goal or a focus on something other than, and larger than, oneself and acting in alignment with these beliefs start to become particularly important in middle school.

Stanford University psychologist William Damon views purpose as a “stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at once meaningful to the self and of positive consequence to the world beyond the self.”

Not surprisingly, positive purpose is connected to social and emotional learning (SEL) skills:  

You recognize your feelings and use them as a guide to your actions.

You find your special task—what it is that allows you to excel.

You recognize your achievements and those of others, both large and small, as they contribute to a positive purpose.

Getting Started With a Positive Purpose Essay

Writing an essay about positive purpose is an important way to build social awareness, as well as to provide direction and energy for learning. But students usually can’t just start writing such an essay on their own—you need to help them build up to it:

Look at the positive purpose of well-known individuals. Use nonfiction books, biographies, documentaries, social studies texts, and news reports to get students thinking.

Have them learn about, reflect on, and write about the positive purpose of someone they know, or know of, by interviewing a local hero, community leader, member of the clergy, first responder, family member, educator, or other staff member in the school.

Have them write about their own positive purpose.

Use a Prompt to Guide Writing

You can use a grade-level-appropriate writing prompt suited to your students’ ability, and adapt it so a positive purpose is the subject of the essay. Here is a prompt example from a middle school in Jersey City, New Jersey:

The following are excerpts from an essay written by an eighth grader based on the prompt above. (The student’s school is located in a high-poverty area of Jersey City, and the school has been deemed low achieving by the state.) 

Here is her introduction and definition of purpose:

In the same essay, she responded to the prompt question, “How would someone know that is your purpose in life?”

Try It With Your Students

The student’s essay opened her teacher’s eyes to the depth of her thinking, aspirations, and abilities. The teacher reported that many of the student’s classmates also produced insightful essays. 

Aside from an essay, there are also other way in which your students can communicate their positive purpose. Consider how they might do this through artistic renderings other than writing—with visual art or music, for example.

If you decide to embark with your students on the essay assignment, I recommend that as they write, you provide a space for them to share early drafts of their essays with classmates to get several rounds of feedback, and then practice reading aloud in small groups. And then take a powerful next step: Provide them an opportunity to share in front of the class, or at an assembly, or at a parent or community gathering. Making public their positive purpose is a wonderful way to celebrate the inspirations and aspirations of your students.

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Developing A Social Justice Unit In English Language Arts

“I feel fortunate that I had a teacher who let us talk about racism and other social justice issues in his class. He taught us all the terms and helped develop the language to talk about and address racial inequity.” Those words from Josh, one of my former students, describe a defining experience in his school life and speak to the power of a social justice education, which the book Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice describes as a pedagogical approach that teaches skills for exploring how systems of oppression operate at the individual, institutional, and structural levels.

As a social justice educator, I work to help students develop awareness, knowledge, and processes to identify, respond to, and redress inequity in their communities.

Discussing Social Justice Issues Takes Prep Work

In 2023 I developed a unit that was based largely on the project-based learning framework to meet my county’s English Language 9 curriculum expectation that students write a fictional narrative essay. I had my students engage in counter-storytelling, a concept grounded in critical race theory, to use the power of narrative to counter and disrupt stereotypes and bias against marginalized groups.

Many teachers shy away from a social justice approach because they worry about their students’ ability to handle such topics, but I’ve found that students are eager to engage in this approach. However, teachers cannot simply dive into these lessons without preparing students.

Before starting the Counter Story Unit, my students and I engaged in a series of community builders to establish a level of trust. I introduced them to the discussion protocol created by Glenn Singleton, which he describes in Courageous Conversations About Race. I adapted the protocol to establish ground rules for productive discussions about difficult, sensitive social justice topics. We used Singleton’s Four Agreements (stay engaged, experience discomfort, speak your truth, and expect and accept non-closure) and the Courageous Conversations Compass, a mindset tool that helps students evaluate their emotional state and find their emotional center. I worked to create a classroom culture of relational trust, and provided students with the basic tools they would need to engage in lessons about inequity and injustice.

I noted that several of the curricular anchor texts  (To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, and The House on Mango Street) centered on the experiences of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color), people living in poverty, and differently abled people. This literature offered students a chance to read about the experiences of marginalized people and explore systems of oppression. To prepare my students, I built background knowledge and exposed them to the concepts of diversity, prejudice, bias, discrimination, privilege, and systems of oppression.

Students explored the intersecting factors of their own diversity using the Social Identity Wheel activity. Students learned about the concept of privilege and explored their own relationship to privilege in journal writing and reflections using the Circle of Oppression, a tool that helps students think and talk about how our factors of diversity determine the level of oppression we might face.

Finally, students discussed the effects of stereotypes by watching and discussing the video “The Lie,” which depicts students in an elementary school class explaining the lies or stereotypes society tells about them and the truth about how they see themselves. I gave students a chance to identify the lies they had heard about themselves and proclaim the truth of who they are. Our classroom became a space where students thought about, wrestled with, and developed knowledge about inequity and social justice.

The Final Product

After building their background knowledge, students engaged with anchor texts. To focus their reading, I instructed them to think of themselves as social justice authors. Like all great writers, they would have to become great readers and study the works of those who came before them.

I guided them through various narrative genres, which they read through the lens of a counter-story teller, looking for ways in which the authors of the anchor text challenged stereotypical narratives about various marginalized groups. They analyzed how authors crafted their narratives, discussed the effectiveness of each text’s counter-narrative power, and made decisions about how they would structure their own narratives. Students broadened their understanding of narrative techniques as they addressed social justice issues.

Throughout the unit, students experimented with various genres and topics in preparation for their summative assessment, which was to write a narrative aligned with Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3: “Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.”

Exposure to standards-aligned, rigorous instruction helps ensure that every student is college-ready, and I have found that a rich social justice education provides a framework for infusing the rigor students need. However, you may experience pushback from students, parents, colleagues, and administrators, and be asked to justify your decisions. Some complain that social justice topics are not appropriate, but I would say that I grounded my social justice teaching in the course content.

Some argue that social justice teaching is not rigorous. I would answer that a social justice education requires students to explore complex topics and abstract ideas. When I first shifted to social justice teaching, my supervisor informed me of a parent’s concern about the level of rigor in my class; I was wasting time establishing trust, implementing discussion protocols, and teaching social justice vocabulary. By the end of the semester, the same parent expressed gratitude, saying that her daughter was challenged, engaged, and invested in her own learning.

The Dollars And Sense Of Marriage (Continued)

The Dollars and Sense of Marriage (Continued) Student Spotlight: An Essay by Fergus Hodgson (CAS’06)

A Touch of Theory

The relevant theoretical gains from marriage shall be referred to within the context of each explanation for marital decline, but in order to clarify the framework for this analysis the benefits of marriage deserve a short mention before we begin. The gains to an individual from a marital commitment are many, (and from a social standpoint also; hence the desire to promote marriage within the 1996 welfare reform), but economic theory reduces them down to three of primary importance:

George Akerlof, Janet L. Yellen, and Michael L. Katz (AYK) have investigated changes to perceived responsibility for children among men as a consequence of contraception and abortion; the logic being that if a man has no power over whether a baby is aborted, and he can not be certain whether the women is correctly using her oral contraceptives, how can he be responsible for taking care of the child (usually manifested by marriage with the mother-to-be)? This argument may be appealing, but it provides little in the way of testable predictions, and even AYK despondently admit that the survey evidence supporting a relationship is weak at best. A man’s perception of responsibility is rather difficult to gauge, particularly when his provision of financial support is so heavily influenced by child-support legislation. Additionally, the question of responsibility for the care of a child is one of ethics, not of economics. That does not mean that the introduction of new technology doesn’t sway public opinion, but rather that we are not going to resolve the deeper ethical question or delve into people’s minds with economic tools alone.

Yet all is not lost. We can examine the correlation between the decision to marry in the event of an illegitimate pregnancy with the legalization of abortion and contraception. At first glance, rising illegitimacy as a result of contraception and abortion may appear counterintuitive. After all, aren’t these the very tools used to prevent such occurrences? Perhaps if all other factors, such as sexual habits, remained constant, these conflicts would be avoided. However, a decline in “shot-gun” weddings, as mentioned in the introduction, certainly did occur after contraception and abortion were legalized.

To clear up any confusion as to why such a trend occurred and to avoid a post hoc fallacy, an argument to explain causality is needed. AYK, in a more verifiable manner, place the sex/relationship market into the supply-and-demand framework, and theorize that since women no longer faced the risk of pregnancy they were generally more willing to engage in extramarital intercourse without a commitment from men to marry in the event of pregnancy. AYK’s rather dehumanizing supply-and-demand analysis assumes that men are the demanders of premarital sex, favoring a lower priceless or no commitment to marry in the event of pregnancy,—and women, the suppliers, will take the highest price—as much commitment or chivalry as the competitive relationship market will allow. As contraception was introduced, and the risk of pregnancy was all but removed, the cost of premarital intercourse for women was lowered, and the equilibrium in the market was changed by an outward shift of supply. Even though most women would have preferred to have a commitment to marriage in the event of pregnancy, and many women resisted use of contraception and abortion on a moral basis, they were competing for men in a market that no longer afforded such luxury.

The demand-supply model accurately predicts greater proportional illegitimacy, but it also predicts increased extramarital sexual activity and the reduced ability of society and women to command and enforce a commitment to marriage from men (as manifested by the aforementioned decline in marriage upon illegitimate pregnancy). Consistent with an increase in the quantity of extramarital sexual activity, the proportion 18 year old females who were sexually active grew from 29 percent in 1950 to 63 percent in 1980. In the long-run, as the market settles at a new equilibrium, and extramarital sexual activity becomes the norm, a loss of the social stigma surrounding illegitimate births is also to be predicted.

The final piece to the marriage puzzle related to abortion and contraception may be the overall decline in birth rates, but the assertion that birth control caused the decline is debatable. Since the gain from a marital relationship is increased by the expectancy and presence of children, the ability to prevent children, or at least lower the number for each woman, would cause fewer people to seek marriage and would facilitate more people leaving marriage because they now face less financial vulnerability and/or concern over causing harm to children. However, the relationship between birth control and lower birth rates is more tenuous than expected. Although the birth rate fell by more than a third between 1950 and 2000—the decline being most concentrated among married women—the birth rate of unmarried women more than doubled.

To obscure the picture even more, specific demographics, such as teenagers and Medicaid recipients, have shown positive relationships between abortion availability and birthrates. Gary Becker argues that reduced birthrates are better explained by greater employment opportunities for women, highlighting the course of events in Japan. Japan legalized abortion in 1948, but, unlike other industrialized nations, oral contraception was banned right up until 1999. Even without the birth-control technology shock of the 1970s, Japan has still experienced a birth-rate decline of 40 percent and a rise in divorce since 1950, similar to that of the US. On the other hand, the US and Japan do share a common trend of more women in the workforce, to be discussed in the next section.

The sequence of events in Japan serves to keep us on our toes when we might otherwise give too much credence to effects of abortion and contraception. The legalization of abortion and contraception correlates well with marital decline, and it provides a good explanation for changed sexual-relationships and the decline of shot-gun weddings; however, the causal role with birth rates is ambiguous. And of course, we must keep in mind, only a small group of people marry due to the stimulus of an illegitimate pregnancy. There are other reasons for entering marriage, and birth control does less to change these reasons. Abortion and contraception do provide part of the explanation for declining marriage rates, but plenty is left to be resolved.

Greater Employment Opportunities for Women, and Growing Income Inequality Among Men

When male wages become more unequal, and a larger proportion of men go without stable employment, women seeking “provider” labor within marriage will deem a smaller proportion of males to be marriageable. Fittingly, male employment and income levels are positively associated with marriage incidence. While wealthier men face less competition with rising inequality, and could potentially marry more rapidly, the poorest of men are left in a weak position. When combined with rising wages for women, increased inequality among men brings a double-edged sword for the poorest of men. Not only is the lower-income sector of men earning less and struggling to fulfill a provider role, what little they do have is less desirable to women who are now earning more on the private market. While rising incomes of women would theoretically be expected to lower marriage incidence, this effect is only to be predicted from a declining disparity between men and women—men’s incomes either being held constant or growing at a slower rate than women’s. If men’s and women’s incomes were to grow at the same rate, no change in marriage rates would be predicted. Any increase to the opportunity cost of marriage that a woman might face could be compensated for with a larger marriage premium transferred from the higher income of the man. Additionally, maintained income-disparities would allow the continuation of gains from gender specialization between the home and private market. Supporting the importance of income-disparities, divorce is positively correlated with a wife’s income relative to her husband’s, but not with her absolute income.

With comparatively lower wages for men at the bottom end of the income distribution, and fewer women willing to take these men on as mates, lower marriage incidence was to be expected among low-income men. However, the population-wide effect was compounded by declines in the marriage of high-income men as well. Although the wealthiest men could now marry more rapidly if they chose to, low ratios of eligible men to women reduce the power of women to command a marital commitment in return for sex and care-labor (as was the case after the introduction of birth control). Low ratios of eligible males to females are associated with lower rather than higher rates of marriage among wealthy men, but the effect, although theoretically and empirically viable, is not as large as that of the changes to relative wages and marriageable proportions. Rising market opportunities for women relative to men appear to have played an important, if not dominant, role in the decline of marriage by reducing the demand for children, raising the opportunity cost of care-labor, and reducing the economic gain from specialization between home and private market work. Divorce also became more viable with fewer children and higher wages reducing a women’s financial dependence on her husband. Growing inequality among men has doubly compounded the change by reducing the proportion of men considered marriage worthy and limiting the power of women in the relationship market. Although the long-term trend of declining income-disparities fits declining marriage rates, apparent statistical inconsistencies highlight the importance of considering income inequalities among potential mates and relative rather than absolute gains for women.

Increased Government Provision of Welfare and Social Services

The provision of government transfers (more commonly known as welfare payments) and the enforcement of child support payments reduce the financial vulnerability of women, especially those with children. Consequently, the wealth and risk pooling gain from marriage is eroded, making single-parenthood, either by way of divorce or simply marriage avoidance, more economically viable. The criteria for welfare payments may also inflame this situation by providing a perverse incentive to remain single in the event of a pregnancy, at least officially, because married couples are less likely to be eligible. Government social services such as day-care, pre-school, elementary education, retiree welfare, and healthcare make the role of traditional care-labor increasingly redundant and less valuable when the government alternative, even if of lower quality, is subsidized or free. Hence, there is a decline in the demand for care-labor that has traditionally provided by women within the marital setting and the ability of both males and females to remain unmarried and fully employed in the private sector increases, even in the presence of children.

Changing social values have also been attributed to welfare provision: women receiving welfare payments for getting pregnant and keeping babies born out of wedlock hardly send the message that such actions are morally reprehensible, as was assumed in the past, particularly when married women do not receive the payment. However, this effect is difficult to monitor, and it requires some plausible but debatable assumptions in order to fit the data. Because the generosity of welfare benefits declined in the late 1970s, but illegitimacy rates did not, we must assume that either changing social attitudes are able to shift in one direction more rapidly than the other (once attitudes have changed, turning them around is more difficult) or social attitudes are irresponsive to small incremental changes, such as inflationary devaluation, and require a lengthy period of time to respond. In addition to the observational struggles, welfare and social services are as likely to be a symptom of changing social values as they are a cause.

Therefore, changing social values should not be used as an explanation, but instead the decline of female financial vulnerability and the reduced demand for spousal care-labor should be of primary concern. The connection between the growth of social spending and welfare with illegitimacy and fewer marriages is well founded theoretically, but not necessarily clear empirically. Federally mandated transfer programs such as unemployment compensation, food stamps, and social security, grew in real terms by almost a factor of five between 1950 and 1976, and the value and number of recipients of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) had been growing since inception in 1936, rising rapidly during the 1960s. (AFDC is especially relevant because the program had eligibility criteria that provided a disincentive for marriage.) However, despite the growth of AFDC and other transfers that coincided well with the decline of marriage, particularly in the occurrence of an extramarital pregnancy, the decline or stagnation of AFDC payments during the late 1970s and the 1980s did not see a reversal of the illegitimacy trend.

A variety of explanations can account for the apparent break from a simple welfare-illegitimacy relationship, but one could reasonably assert that the relationship is weaker than theory implies. One explanation is that only a small proportion of the population is poor enough to be eligible for welfare when making decisions about living arrangements. Therefore, unless we believe that this small group can change social values, we must accept that welfare policy, even if it does distort marriage behavior, is not applicable as an explanation for the general population. An alternative theory—inferring a greater destructive impact of welfare—is that society takes a long time to adjust to incremental changes. AFDC payments had been growing in real terms from 1936 right up to the late 1970s, and the effects of welfare may have arisen over many years, even decades. While AFDC payments did see a gradual decline in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the adjustment would then not be expected until the mid to late 1980s, by which time divorce (and to a limited extent, illegitimacy) had plateaued, divorce peaking around 1980 and illegitimacy in the early 1990s. The nature of welfare is something that can be experimented with, and these experiments often occur across state lines. However, such data should be approached with caution because it has limited ability to explain a population-wide welfare-marriage relationship. Natural experiments have non-random selection, and those selected for voluntary welfare experimentation are usually current welfare recipients, so we can draw scant conclusions regarding effects on potential recipients and the general population.

Economic, theoretical, and empirical analysis has provided great insight into why we have observed such a sharp decline in the married proportion of our population. The analysis points to the legalization of abortion and oral contraception, the decline of male-female wage disparity, and expanding welfare and social services. Alone, none of these explanations are adequate. However, taken collectively, as occurred between 1965 and 1980, they can account for the dramatic decline of marriage. In the case of marital decline, we are dealing with multiple coinciding explanations rather than an either-or scenario. With so many interplaying factors, gauging the relative contribution of each in terms of percentages, however tempting, is beyond the depth of this article. And without experimental data, which is limited to a few welfare trials, attempts to do so would only provide a degree of correlation, not causality.

I propose further research into the role of incarceration rates, religious participation, and divorce law changes. Mindful of the role of the aforementioned impact of male inequality on marriage rates, an increased prison population leading to even fewer men within the poorer demographics would exasperate the lack of marital opportunity for poor women. Since joint religious participation is a gain from marriage, and many religions promote the traditional family model, if declining religious participation, has occurred, may also have played a role. However, one would then need to explain in more economic terms why religious participation has declined. Liberalized divorce laws may be a symptom of marital decline than a cause of it; but a reduced transaction cost of marriage termination would justify a causal relationship, so as an ongoing legislative question, divorce laws deserve attention.

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“School Time” In New Zealand

I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the last decade about how schools in the United States often choose to structure time. Most often, I pose the question to people in the places I visit, “Can you explain how the school day is structured, and why?”

I’ve found that many people working within schools are usually split into two camps of thought:

With the majority of students and parents I interview, however, I find they fall into the second category, that the traditional concept of what the “school day” is could use an overhaul.

Of course, some amount of time is required by law in the U.S. (a.k.a. Carnegie Units). But it’s flexible, often more so than we might think.

More often than not, we go faster. We add. We get busier.

School Days

I decided to travel to New Zealand (with a great bunch of people through the University of Vermont) to see all the articles I’ve read about school schedules there come to life. Here’s how the general school day mapped out in the eight schools I visited, elementary through high school:

Start time

Class 1: 1:10

Morning tea: 20 minutes; student recess/snack, faculty “teatime”

Class 2: 1:10

Lunch: 40-50 minutes

Class 3: 1:10

Afternoon tea: Student recess/snack, faculty “teatime”

Class 4: 1:10

End of day

Once per week, school started later to accommodate a morning faculty meeting.

School departments are on a six-day rotation. Each department takes off a half or full day every six days for a professional development session. I sat in on one of those PD days with the technology teachers at the Takapuna Intermediate School. I observed as they mapped out new ideas, discussed students and the approaches they’d take collectively to offer assistance needed, and we shared many ideas on PBL, assessment, educational theory, and quite a few good stories about our craft.

Sound luxurious?

It was.

Yet I could easily see that these teachers were connected to their students, craft and each other. It’s a trait I discovered at every school I visited in New Zealand.

Not Your Average Cup of Tea

Like most of the folks on the trip that were new to New Zealand schools, I wondered just what “morning tea” might look like and what its effect was on school climate and culture. Each teatime, morning and afternoon, started with folks getting something to drink in a faculty lounge. At every school, this lounge sported a small kitchen and community seating. On occasion there were announcements, but they were always given very succinctly. The majority of teatime was geared to promote collaboration and to see colleagues. Once per week, a department was in charge of putting on a feed for the collective. It was a competitive endeavor, so I learned. Very social . . . and very fun.

Think about it. If you’ve worked in schools, how often have you joked with colleagues about never seeing them? Perhaps you’ve said, “Wow, if I only knew you were doing that we could have . . . “

I interviewed many adults at these morning teas throughout the week. Every person I interviewed thought that all these collaborative times, when added up, were essential to teaching students and not just subjects. Adults felt like they had time to share concerns with peers, grow philosophically, innovate. Most importantly, when something went wrong at the school or needed to be done, the collaborative time was built in to handle it. And then they got back to innovating and discussing students.

Perhaps most importantly, every student I interviewed thought the collaborative time was essential, too. One student described the breaks as “a great time to decompress. I get time to think about what we’ve done. It’s easier to go back to another class. I’m ready to go back to class.” On a few of these teatimes, I went out to see what students were up to. I found them talking, organizing games or eating a snack. They decompressed. They relaxed. They talked to each other.

The impact on classes after these breaks during the day was also evident. Every class I saw was focused, engaged and in all instances highly participatory.

Adding It Up

Here’s an outline of what that collaborative time looks like over a six-day period:

Developing A Good Backup And Restore Strategy For Windows

The world runs on Windows. More businesses run on the Windows platform than any others combined. Any Windows veteran can tell you that you’re going to run into problems that will require you to rebuild your PC at some point, and that is why having a backup is important. In this article we will talk about what you need to know to develop a good backup strategy and ensure your data is available when you need it.

Now, before we get going too far down the road, you probably want to first read about what Windows System Restore can and cannot do for your PC. System Restore is the precursor to the recovery process built into Windows 8.x and Windows 10. Understanding its beginnings may give your system recovery efforts a better chance at success.

Note: reducing worry and stress due to a dead or dying computer or hard drive is all about preparation. If you understand that you will surely need to rely on some sort of backup strategy and restore plan, then you’re halfway home.

Develop a Backup Strategy

How well you can restore your computer to its previous working state depends on how well you have backed up your data. In short, your backup strategy and its implementation is the key to restoring your data.

A good backup plan should consist of the following:

A local backup to ensure that if you do need to blow your computer away, you have a quick and easy way back to the way it was.

An offsite backup just in case your local backup gets corrupted, damaged or infected with malware, rendering it unusable.

Cloud synchronization because not only does it offer the quickest way to get your data back, it gives you access to your data on ANY Internet-enabled device.

Onsite Backup

This is usually a program that will back up your hard drive to a local, or onsite location. In Windows you can use Windows Backup to handle your backup program needs. Windows Backup has a setup wizard that will take you through defining where, when and how often you back up your data. It’s a set-it-and-forget-it option, and that’s the key to making not only this option work but every other option in your backup strategy. Set it up and let it handle things in the background.

There is also a multitude of third-party software that you can use to automate the backup. SyncToy is one useful tool created by Microsoft.

Other than your data, don’t forget to back up your registry, user profile, and drivers as well.

Offsite Backup

Offsite backup apps are very similar to onsite backup apps with two really big exceptions:

All of your backup data is stored offsite.

There’s a monthly charge for the service.

However, it’s something that you absolutely must consider putting in place, simply because fire, storms, hardware failure, or any number of other problems can happen, especially when you least expect it. Any of those could corrupt or destroy your local backup. When that happens and you want to restore your system to what it was before, having a second backup not effected by any local backup issues can help save your bacon.

The big issue you have to get past here is time. It takes time to complete your initial backup. In fact, depending on how much data you have to back up, the initial backup can take – literally – months to complete depending on how fast your Internet connection is. It’s also going to take time to download a restore point should you need it, BUT this backup copy is likely to be safe, uncorrupted and virus-free. It should also be encrypted for your safety.

Some of the candidates you can consider include:

CrashPlan offers a free plan that will back up all of your data, both locally and offsite, and includes a rolling thirty days of online backup. Paid options include one computer for as little as $5 per month (or $60 per year) or two to ten computers for $14 per month (or $150 per year).

BackBlaze includes a free trial to get you going. After that it is $5 a month or $50 a year to back up a single computer. Each additional computer is another $5 per month. Backblaze offers a way to locate missing computers should one get lost or stolen. They will even provide you with an external hard drive version of your backup for a price.

Carbonite offers a basic plan for $60 per year, a plus plan for $100 per year, and a prime plan for $150 per year. Carbonite offers a 30% discount for multi-year subscriptions.

All of the above offer unlimited backups (except where noted) and 256bit AES or better encryption.

Cloud Sync

Dropbox is the most popular choice here, though you can use Onedrive, Google Drive or any other cloud storage service out there. Most of them come with a desktop client where you can easily drop your files into the folder and have them synced to the cloud.

Restore Plan

Determining the best way to restore your computer to the way it was depends on the extent of the loss that occurred. Common considerations include the following.

Cloud Sync Restore

If you’re rebuilding and either aren’t worried about restoring your apps or have a separate plan for reinstalling them, reinstall your cloud sync app(s) and bring down all your data. This should be your first restore consideration, as it can get everything back to the way it was in a matter of minutes or hours.

Onsite Restore

One of the easiest ways to get all of your apps back is to perform a local restore. This will bring back all of your apps as well as all of your data, but depending on the size of the restore set, this could take quite a while longer than just bringing your data down from your cloud sync app. However, this is likely the easiest way of putting your computer back to exactly the way it was prior to the disaster that caused the need for the restore in the first place.

Offsite Restore

This is a restore of last resort. When you need more than just your data back and your onsite restore is corrupted or damaged, offsite restore can get your computer back to the way it was. Depending on the service you chose, you can get your hard drive back by downloading an image, or you may be able to have a hard drive sent to you by your backup service. These options will take more time to complete and/or will likely cost you some additional money. Look to these options only when all other options fail to produce the results you need.


Sometimes you just need to wipe your computer and start over. For this it is important for you to have a backup strategy and a restore plan. Cloud sync is the easiest way to back up just your data. It’s also the easiest and quickest way to get it back.

Onsite backups are a good way to bring back not only your data, but all of your apps and computer configuration as well. Setting this up to run in the background so you don’t have to think about it is the best way to get this accomplished.

Offsite backups are a key element to your backup and restore strategies and insure that you always have a copy of your important data, regardless of any local issues like floods, fire or just plain hardware or hard drive failure. Setting this up to run in the background is the best way to get this accomplished but will likely take weeks or months to download it all over the Internet.

Making your computer like it was isn’t hard, but it does require preparation … and redundancy.

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When Design Is Hostile On Purpose

Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

A Camden Bench, designed to deter sleeping, skating, graffiti, theft, littering and seventeen other behaviors. Image courtesy of the wub (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The purpose of design in public spaces is typically to make objects and environments more comfortable, functional, and convenient. But in some cases the exact opposite is true. Design can be intentionally repellent, discouraging certain uses of spaces and things, often by specific, targeted demographics.

Take a public bench: Though its primary purpose is to give people a place to sit, it can also be used for sleeping, skate tricks, or even romantic entanglements. If such uses are deemed inappropriate, unpleasant design elements can be added to deter them. For example, strategically placed arm rests can make sleeping uncomfortable, skating dangerous, and love-making gymnastic, thereby forcing “proper” use of the bench.

This design approach is explored in the book “Unpleasant Design” by Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić. The book was first published in 2013, and an updated E-edition becomes available today. Also known as “hostile architecture,” these designs can be very effective at shaping our behavior.

But as the authors point out, they can also be problematic.

A bench in Rotterdam with arm rests designed to deter sleeping. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

Perhaps the most common use of unpleasant design is to discourage behavior associated with homeless people, such as sitting or lying in public spaces. Some examples are knobs on window sills, spikes on planters, or rails on park benches.

“Public space is the tool, object, and place of negotiation,” Savić told Popular Science. “When it becomes not negotiable, its publicness also becomes questionable.”

She gives the example of a policeman who prohibits people from sleeping on a park bench versus the use of metal arm rests. With the policeman there is the possibility of negotiation, but you won’t get far negotiating with an arm rest.

Other common uses of unpleasant design include blue lighting in bathrooms to deter intravenous drug users (because blue light makes veins hard to spot), high-pitch sound emitters to discourage loitering teens (because only young people can hear sounds of certain frequencies), and paint resistant surfaces to repel graffiti. Often, these design elements are hidden in plain sight.

“This kind of design becomes problematic when humans aren’t aware of it,” Savić says, “Or when it’s done for the pure purpose of profit with little benefit to society in general. It’s especially problematic when it targets certain groups, like young people or the homeless.”

“Unpleasant Design” by Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic Courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

While Savić believes that unpleasant design is often inevitable, even useful in some cases, she thinks the notion that objects can solve problems is flawed. By attacking one problem with unpleasant design, other problems are often created, she says. She gives the example of pigeon spikes, which deter pigeons from landing on eaves and other structures. Though the spikes work well, they tend to concentrate birds in locations without spikes. It doesn’t solve the root of the problem, it just moves it. The same could be said for anti-sleeping spikes, anti-drug use lights, and many other forms of behavior-discouraging design.

The pinnacle of hostile architecture may be the Camden bench, a bizarre concrete object that purports to be for sitting. The bench is designed to repel numerous bad behaviors, including sleeping, skating, vandalism, drug dealing, littering, and theft. Savić is not a fan.

“It deters twenty-two things, and it allows only two,” she says. “It states the expectation that people will be nasty.” She feels that such design is cynical, and “makes an accusation that I don’t think is just.”

But in one respect, Savić appreciates the Camden bench: As such a perfectly hostile object, it has spurred discussion about unpleasant design.

And that’s the idea behind the “Unpleasant Design” book. The authors hope to draw our attention to hostile architecture and give us a language with which to discuss its value and function in public spaces. The book contains essays by numerous authors, interviews, and plenty of photos of examples of unpleasant designs.

Not everyone is taking unpleasant design lying down. Artist Sarah Ross created what she calls “archisuits,” leisure attire designed to allow the wearer to undermine deterrent designs.

A woman using an archisuit designed by artist Sarah Brown. Sarah Brown

And in 2003, French filmmakers Stéphane Argillet and Gilles Paté created “The Fakir’s Rest,” a short film about one man’s quest to misuse every unpleasantly designed, use-deterrent public object he comes across:

Have a look at this gallery of images on unpleasant design from Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić’s collection:

A brick wall covered in anti-climb paint. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

A bathroom with blue lights used to deter intravenous drug users because blue light makes veins hard to spot. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

A light pole covered in an anti-sticker sheath. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

An anti-sit bench in Rotterdam. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

Anti-urination bars. (Photo by: Thomas Baurley/Leaf McGowan, chúng tôi )

A bench with an anti-skate bar attachment. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

A low wall with metal anti-skate bars affixed along the edges. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

Bench designed to use cold to discourage prolonged sitting. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

An anti-sit bench. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

A handrail covered in sandpaper to discourage rail-sliding with skateboards. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

A low wall designed to discourage sitting using uneven rocks. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

A bench in Rotterdam with an array of unpleasant design features. Image courtesy of Gordan Savicic and Selena Savic

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