Reflections on My First Semester at Columbia Business School

Having completed my first semester at CBS, I thought I would share three reflections on my experience so far.

1. The core curriculum is accessible to students from non-business backgrounds

Prior to business school, I obtained a B.A. in Psychology and a Master of Science in Social Work, then served as a mental health counselor for Catholic Charities. I loved my work in counseling, but it’s fair to say that I had less exposure to the business world than many of my MBA classmates. Fortunately, my academic experience so far has been positive.

Our first semester curriculum encompassed nine core classes: Corporate Finance; Accounting; Managerial Economics; Global Economic Environment; Managerial Statistics; Business Analytics; Marketing; Lead (our introductory leadership class); and Strategy Formulation. Each of these courses was designed to be approachable to students who did not have a robust business background. Although I needed to dedicate a significant portion of my free time to academics, I found the coursework to be manageable. Students who needed additional support on a subject could attend review sessions; talk with professors during office hours; chat with TAs; sign up for tutoring sessions; or simply discuss the material with their classmates.

The team-based nature of the fall semester also helps students from non-traditional paths. Many assignments are designed to be completed in learning teams, so students with less familiarity in a subject can learn directly from their learning team members.

Enrolling in HBS Online’s CORe program in early 2019 also facilitated my transition to MBA-level academics. The three classes CORe comprises (Business Analytics; Financial Accounting; and Economics for Managers) served as valuable preparation for my fall semester, although there remained plenty of new material for me to learn.

In short, while my coursework kept me busy, I had all the resources I needed for a successful core semester. I’m looking forward to building on my core classwork in coming semesters, particularly in the analytics field, which I’ll discuss next.

2. The power (and value) of analytics

Although I enjoyed my fall coursework in general, my favorite class was Business Analytics. This half-semester course covered a range of concepts related to data analysis and decision making, including regression; optimization; the k-nearest neighbors algorithm; classification, confusion matrices, and ROC curves; shrinkage estimators; Monte Carlo simulations; difference-in-differences calculations; and portfolio analytics. As part of the class, we also received an Excel add-in that took care of much of the data processing for us, allowing us to focus on understanding the principles behind the analyses.

I finished the class confident that analytics skills can be a major asset for both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and that demand for this skill set will continue to grow. I enjoyed my analytics course so much that I chose to include 5 analytics classes in my second-semester curriculum: Applied Regression Analysis; Business Analytics II (which covers machine learning concepts); Intro to Python; Intro to Databases (which covers SQL); and The Analytics Advantage. I look forward to applying this analytics background during my internships and career.

3. The importance of community

Although coursework and career prep are crucial components of the MBA, I nevertheless consider building a strong set of friendships to be the most valuable use of my time as a business student.

My academic experience at CBS has been rewarding so far, and I look forward to my upcoming coursework. However, thanks to the abundance of continuing education opportunities in our digital world, I know that I will be able to continue learning about finance, strategy, and analytics as my career progresses. Similarly, although I owe it to myself to network hard during my MBA, opportunities to connect with alumni and business leaders will remain abundant after I graduate. In contrast, this is by far the best time for me to get to know my fellow classmates. In less than two years, we will be hard at work at jobs all across the globe, and opportunities to get together will become limited. Therefore, I believe it makes sense to prioritize the community component of business school.

My classmates have an incredible range of backgrounds, interests, and future plans. I owe it to myself to get to know them, not simply to establish a network, but to develop lifelong friendships. Fortunately, despite challenges posed by coronavirus-related restrictions, I was able to meet many students in my cluster in person, and I look forward to getting to know even more students in the coming semesters.

Studying at Columbia’s Libraries During the Coronavirus


Kenneth Burchfiel

Due to the risk of COVID-19, access to Columbia’s library system has been limited; however, it is still possible to study in 6 of Columbia’s libraries (generally for up to 2 hours at a time). This post features pictures of some of the study spots within those 6 libraries. I have found that, despite the 2-hour time limit, visits to the library are well worth it due to the increased productivity I experience there.

(You are required to reserve a seat before visiting any of the libraries and can do so here:

Happy studying!

1. Butler Library

Butler has a wide variety of study spaces, including:

a. Butler 301

Butler 301 is a large, spacious room. It has mostly tables (currently limited to 2 students each) but also features carrels at both ends of the hall.

b. Butler 210

This is one of my favorite study spots from an architectural perspective, although the wooden seats are somewhat uncomfortable. (It’s certainly not the only location in this guide with wooden seats, however.)

c. Butler 209

Video conferencing is permitted in Butler 209, so it’s a great place to attend a Zoom call (as long as said call is 2 hours or less).

d. Butler 403

This room offers both carrels and tables. It’s relatively small, and I imagine it gets less traffic than 301.

2. Avery

Much smaller than Butler, Avery features elegant architecture and classy wooden bookshelves. I’ve noticed that seat reservations go pretty quickly, so consider booking in advance.

3. C.V. Starr East Asian Library

Starr is similar to Avery, with the added bonus of mezzanine study rooms that you can book. The wooden shelves and columns create a refined atmosphere.

The main hall

The end of the main hall in the foreground with an alcove and mezzanine room in the background

Looking out from one of the mezzanine rooms

A closer look at one of the mezzanine rooms (titled “North Mezzanine 2, Seat 01” on the QR code page)

4. Science and Engineering Library

If you prefer a more modern look than Butler, Starr, or Avery, or simply want seats with more padding, consider the Science and Engineering Library.

Mezzanine level

A view of the main level, which features both carrels and tables, from the mezzanine level

5. Business and Economics Library (Watson)

Watson permits 3.5-hour seat reservations as opposed to 2-hour reservations at the other libraries. Only CBS students may use the library from Monday to Thursday. Video conferencing is permitted throughout.

The best study locations in Watson are the semi-private study rooms on both the ground floor and mezzanine level. They are visible in the background of the image below; the foreground shows the ground floor open seating area. The library website indicates that these study rooms are available to CBS students only.

Lehman Social Services Library

The Lehman library is expansive and has a more modern look than Butler, Avery, or Starr. Some rooms allow for video conferencing. At least some of the rooms (including 319, pictured below) are below ground level.

Why I Chose to Pivot from Counseling to an MBA

Kenneth Burchfiel

My time as a mental health counselor at Catholic Charities was an incredible experience that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. It was an honor to accompany individuals and couples on their journey to mental health recovery and stronger relationships.

To become a counselor, I first obtained a Master of Science in Social Work from UT-Austin. My counseling work and MSSW strengthened my listening, communication, and advocacy skills and reinforced the importance of evidence-based practice and sound research methods. They also solidified my belief that mental health and social service agencies perform crucial work and that far more counselors and social workers are needed.

Serving as a student intern and counselor also made me aware of the tremendous importance of fundraising and nonprofit management. Without the generosity of donors and institutions who believed in Catholic Charities’ work, and without our organization’s excellent leadership, I could not have provided services to clients at such an affordable cost. I recognized that pivoting to a career in nonprofit development and management would enable me to help organizations expand and thrive.

However, in order to make a successful transition to a nonprofit leadership role, I saw a need to acquire additional skills and experiences. After considering several options, I determined that an MBA would best equip me to effect positive change for nonprofits. I believe that combining the listening, relationship-building, and communication skills I gained through social work with the analytics, finance, and strategy background that an MBA provides will enable me to contribute more effectively to nonprofit organizations.

Counseling work in itself offers valuable preparation for a nonprofit leadership career. Nonprofit development and management are person-centered fields that utilize the interpersonal skills that I developed as a counselor. In addition, my counseling work allowed me to witness firsthand the impact that nonprofit organizations can make in clients’ lives; these lessons can inform my conversations with donors and advocacy efforts with other stakeholders. Finally, the experience I gained in a direct client services position may enable me to more effectively manage those in similar roles.

At the same time, the skill set and network that business school offers are crucial for nonprofit managers. As an MBA student, I have the opportunity to learn how to evaluate accounting statements and financing options; apply statistical tools to analyze data; develop organizational strategies; manage teams; and market services effectively. These skills and others, along with the professional relationships I will develop, will put me in a better position to create real change for nonprofits.

Therefore, after saying a bittersweet goodbye to my coworkers at Catholic Charities, I entered the 2-year MBA program at Columbia Business School this August. My first-semester core curriculum includes analytics, strategy, accounting, finance, economics, leadership, statistics, and marketing classes. Although most of the organizations discussed in our lectures are for-profit companies, I am confident that I will be able to transfer the insights my coursework presents to a nonprofit management role. I also plan to enroll in many of Columbia’s nonprofit electives once my course schedule opens up next spring.

In between classes, I plan to connect with nonprofit leaders who work in a range of functions, such as finance, development, strategy, and consulting, in order to build my network and discover what specific roles most appeal to me. My summer internship, along with any in-semester internships I undertake, will let me apply my coursework while gaining invaluable nonprofit-sector experience.

I also have plenty to learn from my classmates. Talking to students with backgrounds in consulting, finance, banking, and general management, among other fields, will offer me a deeper understanding of the business world and how for-profit and nonprofit organizations can work together. I hope that many of these conversations will lead to lifelong friendships.

My post-MBA career may look considerably different from my counseling work. However, in attending business school, I do not see myself leaving social work behind. Instead, I expect to apply my MBA and MSSW together to help organizations pursue their goals. I believe this will make for an exciting, impactful, and rewarding career.

On Worth and Priorities


Kenneth Burchfiel

What gives us worth as humans? What should we prioritize above all else? These two questions are of tremendous importance. I hope that you will find my responses to these two questions to be useful.

Our Worth

Our world offers countless interpretations of what constitutes our worth as human beings, from money, career status, intelligence, and attractiveness to friendships, relationships, and family. These are not inherently bad in themselves. However, from my perspective as a Catholic, the true source of our worth lies much deeper, and is far more consistent and secure than these competing measures.

What is the actual foundation of our worth, then? For me, it is the fact that we are made by God in his image; that God died for us to redeem us from our sins; and that God has invited us to be his adopted sons of daughters.

Three key implications follow from this perspective. First, everyone has equal worth. Although we have different levels of wealth, prestige, power, and relationships, we are all created in God’s image, and God died for all of us. Although it can be difficult to see beyond all the other indicators of worth that society holds, the opportunity to view all of humanity as equals is a liberating one.

Second, what an immense worth this entails! No amount of money or prestige can compete with the fact that we have the opportunity to be sons and daughters of God, the creator and ruler of the universe. This status constitutes a nobility that no temporal power can dream of conferring.

Third, this worth is unchanging. Money arrives and vanishes; jobs come and go; friends and even family members enter our lives and then pass away. If we base our worth in these elements, our self-image is liable to collapse when misfortune hits. However, our identity as individuals made in God’s image is unchanging and permanent.

Our Priorities

There is no shortage of demands (legitimate or otherwise) on our time. To make it through each day, we need to cook food (or, admittedly too often in my case, eat out); we need to sleep; we often need to work as well. Relaxation and leisure are legitimate needs also, as are connection with others, time with friends, and family life.

But in order to determine how to spend our time and re-orient our lives, it is valuable to identify which priorities rank above all others. In my view, the Bible makes these central priorities clear. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. And we should also pursue eternal life with God in Heaven.

These priorities—loving God, loving others, and pursuing Heaven—serve as a powerful decision-making guide. Do my actions constitute love, or do they demonstrate indifference? Does a specific activity promote or impede my path to Heaven? Does the way that I spend my free time bring me closer to God or make me less mindful of him?

And if getting to Heaven is our ultimate goal, then naturally, loving our neighbor entails helping them reach Heaven as well. If I am engaged in some activity that obstructs my path to Heaven, it is more loving of my neighbor to point me in the right direction than to support or assist in this activity.

To Conclude

In sharing these thoughts, I do not want to create the impression that I have mastered these guidelines. I frequently fail to remember the source of our worth as humans, and I have a long ways to go in prioritizing my time. However, I hope that writing down these principles will help me better commit to them and, in doing so, experience more happiness and fulfillment throughout my life.

Creating a collage with beer caps

Over the last 3 or 4 years, I have been saving beer caps to use in artwork. Tonight, I finally scanned them in and cropped them out using GIMP. Here is my first image made with the caps–a map of Texas created with some of my favorite beers. (I used Scribus to arrange the beer caps over a public domain outline of Texas.)

I have about 76 unique caps, but I hope to create more intricate collages as I discover more beers.

Texas beer cap map-page001.jpeg

Here were the original scans of the caps:



Here’s what the process of putting the image together looked like:


A brief guide to file storage and backup

A brief guide to file storage and backup

Kenneth Burchfiel

10/22/2016 (updated 11/26/2016)



Right now, you can find affordable 5-terabyte hard drives to back up your stuff. It’s very handy to be able to back up everything on your computer to one drive, rather than an array of discs. But what if you have more than 5 terabytes of data to store? You could try to make a RAID array work, but my preference, if I ever have to go this route, would be instead to separate my data into ‘volumes,’ and then have a drive for each volume that I can then back up to other drives.

Volumes aren’t ideal, of course; it would be much nicer to put everything in one drive or one online account. But if you need to use volumes, here’s how I propose making it work.


  1. Under your username folder on your computer, you usually have folders for documents, downloads, media, etc. But in the volume system, I will create multiple volumes under this username folder—volume 1, volume 2, volume 3, etc. Each of these would be as large as my smallest online storage plan, such as 1 terabyte. Or they could be as large as my smallest external drive (e.g. 5 terabytes).

Not all the folders in my username folder will go into the volume folder. For instance, I wouldn’t copy my desktop or appdata folders, or anything else that I wouldn’t want to delete when a volume folder fills up. (The ones that aren’t in the volume folder would still be backed up to my external drive, since I back up the username folders directly, which include the volume folders and the other folders. More on these ‘other’ files later.) The ones I would put into my volume folder are:

  1. Documents
  2. Media files (my “Vids Clips Pics” folder; see below)
  4. Music
  5. Other folders with lots of space that I know aren’t crucial to my computer’s functioning


So it would look something like this:


Folders that are necessary for my computer’s functioning, and won’t be placed in volume folders

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3


I would just have one of these volumes on my computer at any time (since I’ll only be saving to one at a time, and my laptop hard drive space is limited), but if I had a drive that could contain all the volumes, it would look something like that.


(Note that 1 “terabyte” of capacity often means 1 trillion bytes, but under Window’s file system, there are 1,024 units per storage level—meaning that you really have more like 931 gigabytes per terabyte. So I would use that as a reference when deciding how much to store in each volume.)


  1. Within each volume, I would have my normal sets of folders, such as documents, pictures, and video folders. (I would also have a master folder structure, such as the one depicted below, that I would back up this volume to an external drive and/or online storage. I would only save stuff into one volume at a time, and I would put every kind of file into that volume. (In other words, I wouldn’t have just a ‘photos’ volume or a ‘videos’ volume, since that would leave a lot of empty space and complicate things.) As a result, there would be some photos and videos in each volume. Each volume would essentially be one iteration of my username folder in a system without volumes.


  1. Once my current volume folder gets full (e.g. it passes my storage limit of 1, or 2, or 5 terabytes), I would then create a new volume folder on my computer (e.g. Volume 2). This is where you’ll put all your documents, media, etc. from there on out.


  1. So at this point, you have your new, empty volume folder, and your old, full volume folder. First, you need to get your folder structure in the new volume folder. To copy over your folder structure from a complete/relatively complete version of that folder structure (see below for a general view of mine), you can use a free program like TreeCopy that will copy your folder structure (but not the files in it) and paste it within a new volume. That way, volume 2, 3, etc. can have the exact same folder structure as volume 1. Some of those folders would be empty, but that’s fine; the folders will take up virtually no space.

(You could also recreate your folder structure from scratch if you had to, but this could take a while, especially for your documents folder; I would advise against it.)

If your folder structures don’t match exactly among volumes, that’s OK, since you’ll be backing up each volume just to its corresponding volume folder in the external drive. The folder structure could be entirely different among volumes, and it would still work out.

Make sure that you keep a full copy of your computer’s folder structure somewhere, so that if you end up with incomplete folder structures in your volumes (perhaps because you created the volumes by dividing your files and folders), you can recreate a full folder structure for your new volume. However, if you’ve neglected to do this, that’s OK; you can recreate the folder structure where necessary, as explained above.


  1. Next, you have to delete the old folder. One option is to delete the folder entirely, leaving an entirely empty new volume folder on your computer. This could work, but as long as the documents folder isn’t too big, I prefer to cut and paste it over to the new volume folder before deleting the old volume folder. (To copy over the documents folder or other folders, first delete the empty version of that folder in your new volume folder, then cut and paste the old version of that folder into the new volume folder. You can cut and paste folders because the old folder is already backed up to an external drive.)


  1. Now you’re ready to use the new folder. In short, the steps for transitioning from one volume folder to another are: (1 create a new volume folder in your computer; (2 copy/paste the folder structure into it, or recreate it from scratch if needed; (3 copy anything you want to keep in it, such as your documents folder, from the old volume folder, and (4 delete the old volume folder from your computer


  1. You’ll want to back up these volumes to an external drive and also online. To do this, create a blank folder in your external drive with the same name as the volume folder on your computer. Then use Syncback to back up your username folder to this volume folder on the external drive. As a result of this setup, your external drive’s volume folder will contain everything within your username folder, along with the volume folder.

Because external drives are probably going to be bigger than my online storage limits, I’ll probably have multiple one-terabyte sets in each external drive, and then a single set for each storage plan. In other words, if I had 7 volumes, volumes 1 through 5 might fit on external drive 1, and volumes 6 and 7 would be on external drive 2. But if I had 7 1 TB online backup accounts, each account would host just one volume.


  1. Suppose the world of online and external storage changes, as it’s bound to do, and you can now have 50 terabyte drives and 10 terabyte online accounts. You might be able to condense your volumes into larger-sized volumes, but it may be simpler just to change your volume sizes moving forward, rather than retroactively change them. So your first few volumes might be 1 TB each, your next ones 3 TB each, and your most recent ones 10TB each.


  1. You may need to retroactively create volumes, for instance, to convert one 4TB folder into 4 one-terabyte volumes for online storage. This consists of cutting and pasting folders across volumes so that you end up with mostly full volume folders. (The last volume folder does not need to be full; it can be the remainder.)

After you do this, make a new volume folder on your computer. For example, if you created volume folders 1 through 4 on your hard drive, make a volume folder 5 on your computer, even if volume folder 4 only has 10 gigabytes. It’s too much of a hassle to integrate the volume folder on the hard drive with a volume folder on the PC.

Once you’ve made the new volume folder on your PC and back it up to the hard drive, it will be easy to do further backups, since the folder structures will be synchronized.

How do you compensate for the smaller folder that you’re not adding to? Just make the new volume folder a little smaller, so that the folder with the remainders and the new volume folder will still add up to 1 terabyte.


  1. One more note: as explained earlier, when you’re doing your backups, you will normally back up your computer’s entire username folder. This folder contains your current volume folder, but it also contains folders that you keep outside of the volume folder because they shouldn’t be removed from the computer.

It’s possible that these ‘other files’ (such as your desktop folder, app data, and other items) will grow so large that they clog up your external drive backup folders. In this case, you can change your backup settings so that you’re only backing up the volume folder, and none of the other files in your username folder. That will stop extra files from taking up too much space in your backups.

(Alternately, you can delete some of the folders and files in your computer’s username folder that are outside of your volume folder if they’re taking up too much space, but be careful about what exactly you delete. The solution may be to get a larger computer hard drive.)


File organization plan (in short)


Organizing your files can get pretty complex, and everyone’s file storage needs are different and change with time. However, here, explained briefly, is how I store my files.


  1. Username

1.1. Volume 1 [it could also be volume 2, 3, etc.)

1.1.1. Documents

1.1.2. Music

1.1.3. Vids Clips Pics [this is a combination of the pictures and videos folder that are standard with Windows] Unsorted pics and clips [this folder is where I transfer video clips and pictures directly from the device, without sorting them beforehand Device A Volume 1 [if there are a lot of images or videos, I create different volumes so as not to overwhelm Windows Explorer] Volume 2 Pics to sort [when I place photos and videos from a device onto my computer, I sort the photos into a ‘pics to sort’ folder, since I’ll eventually move the photos to my photo albums. However, I keep the video clips in those folders, since there’s no ‘video album’ for video clips; I’ll turn those into movies. Therefore, video clips are placed directly into the volume folder, and don’t get their own ‘video clips’ folder.] Device B

(and so on) Photos albums [where I move individual photos from the unsorted pics and clips folder] Family photos Life stages photos Me and my year photos Travel photos Pets Other images and compilations [for things like screenshots—things you didn’t take with a camera lens] Photos of documents and items News images Videos [these are movies that I create out of the video clips, so it’s sort of similar to the photo albums folder] Family videos Life stages videos Me my year videos Travel videos Other videos School projects Video project files [these are the files that are saved by video editing programs like Corel when I’m working on a movie; I have similar subfolders by category] Temp folder for video projects [e.g. when I’m making a movie on the computer, and I need the clips directly there. This folder doesn’t get backed up to the external drive, since the clips are already on the drive via the Unsorted Pics and Clips folder.] Artwork



File backup plan (in short)

I’m huge on backup, both on-site, external and online. (“Or” is not an option; too much can go wrong on both ends.) Here is how the backup system works:


  1. Rather than backing up folders individually, I back up my computer’s entire username folder (with its volumes and other folders not in the volumes) to external drives and online. This is the reason for having smaller volumes in the first place; they can fit entirely within my online storage plans.


  1. I use Syncback SE to take care of file backup. It’s an amazing program and it’s free; I can’t recommend it enough.


  1. When I transfer files from an external source, like a video camera or cell phone, I use Syncback (when possible) to transfer those clips directly to their corresponding folder in the “Unsorted Pics and Clips” folder. I do rename video clips beforehand based on their device (I assign a code like C-27 to each device, and I use that number to label the folder and as a prefix for each clip), followed by a unique number for each clip, even across volumes. So a video clip may be named something like C27-2116 (the 2,116th clip in the 27th device). The free program Bulk Rename Utility makes this renaming process much simpler. The reason for the renaming is so that I don’t get duplicate clip names when I’m working on a movie with lots of different clips.


  1. Once the files are in the device folder, I leave them there if they’re video clips. For photos, it gets kind of complicated, but here’s the ideal process (so that you don’t lose any files along the way):
  2. Take the pictures and cut/paste them into the “pics to sort” folder within that device folder.
  3. Back up the volume to an external drive
  4. At this stage, you can delete the photos you’ve backed up from the capture device (e.g. a cell phone or camera)
  5. Now you need to transfer the pictures from the pics to sort folder into the corresponding photo album. To save space, cut/paste them, rather than copying and pasting them.
  6. Once you’ve done this, back up your volume again.
  7. Finally, you can now delete the photos (that you’ve sorted) from the ‘pics to sort’ folder in the backup drive.


  1. Back up the volume folder (with all your docs/pictures/videos/etc.) to its corresponding hard drive. In addition, back up that hard drive to other hard drives, and online. You never want just one copy of your data. And try to put those hard drives in different locations so that if something horrible happens at one location, the others will be OK.

A simple explanation of my file backup system

W11: my backup system, explained simply

Kenneth Burchfiel




Here’s a simple explanation of my file backup system:



Part 1

1-1. Pictures and videos from cell phones and video cameras are copied/backed up to their device folder on my computer hard drive. Each capture device (camera, cell phone, etc.) has its own device folder. I then cut and paste the photos into a ‘pics to sort folder’ within each device folder, but I leave the video clips where they are.


1-2. Other content that I create on my computer (like documents) is also saved to my computer hard drive.



Part 2. Next, I back my computer up to External Hard Drive A.


Part 3: I then delete the photos and video clips (that I already copied to my computer and External Drive A) from my capture device.


Part 4

4-1. I move/cut and paste photos from the ‘pics to sort’ folders in the device folders to various photo albums, like family photos and travel photos.


4-2. I keep video clips in their device folders, and make them into movies. I put the movies in the proper folder within my video folders.


Part 5: I back up my computer to External Drive A again.


Part 6

6-1 (if applicable): I delete sorted photos (not video clips) from the ‘pics to sort’ folder in the device folder on External Drive A.

6-2: I back up External Drive A to External Drive B. You can keep External Drive B and External Drive A in the same building.

6-3: I back up External Drive A to External Drive C. Keep External Drive C in a different building than External Drive A, such as your workplace or at home.

6-4: Back up External Drive A to External Drive D, which you should keep as far away as possible (ideally another state or 1,000 miles away). For instance, you could keep it at your parents’ house.

6-5: Back up External Drive A (or one other drive) to online storage. I prefer IDrive.

I have a few different backups to fill up the IDrive folder and Sync folder:

6-5-1: Documents to IDrive Backup

6-5-2: Partial Vids Clips Pics (Albums, movies, and video project files) to IDrive backup

6-5-3: Music to IDrive backup

6-5-4: Partial unsorted clips and pictures to IDrive Sync folder (basically whatever will fit, up to 1 TB)

These backups take place internally, within the same drive.


Part 7

When necessary to save space, you can delete stuff from your computer, or even hypothetically from External Drive A, once you have it backed up to other drives. Just make sure you’re maintaining the same file directory, and that you’re doing a one-way backup, not a mirror.

Three handy organization tools

Kenneth Burchfiel



In between college and relocating for work and school, I’ve been moving quite a bit. This means that I needed to find an inexpensive way to store my stuff that would also make transport pretty easy. After all, I don’t have any interest in moving a 100-pound bookcase from apartment to apartment.

Ultimately, I’ve found three very handy items for organizing my stuff: Ziploc bags, waterproof plastic boxes, and (legally obtained) milk crates.


Ziploc/Hefty slider bags

I knew about Ziploc bags before I needed to get all my stuff organized, of course, but I didn’t realize that they come in all different sizes. (I prefer the slider ones over the ones you have to press to close.)

Quart bags: I use these for storing smaller cables, which helps me find them and stops them from tying together. They’re also handy for organizing things if you’re on a trip.

Gallon and 2.5 Gallon bags: these are great for organizing cables, other electronics, small to medium-sized items, and (in some cases) documents. For example, I like to keep my hard drives in gallon bags as added protection against moisture.

10-gallon bags: These are a great way to store extra clothes, blankets, and other large/bulky items. If you’re moving, they’re a great replacement for garbage bags because you can see through them and they’re easier to reuse.


Watertight plastic boxes

There are all sorts of plastic boxes that you can buy, and they’re a solid choice for both storage and moving. I prefer plastic boxes over cardboard for moving due to their added durability (although I haven’t tried shipping anything in them). Once again, reusability and transparency are a plus. For closet storage, I like to put documents in manila folders and other items in ziploc bags, and then put these folders and bags inside plastic boxes.

My favorite boxes for this job are Iris boxes, which you can buy at the Container Store. They come in all sorts of sizes, and I especially like the flatter, wider ones for storing heavy things like books. You can’t submerge them completely underwater, but they feel well-made and I trust them to keep moisture out.


Milk crates

Milk crates aren’t the best-looking storage solution, but they’re a great choice for students and other people who move a lot. They’re kind of an entry-level option in the field of cubic modular storage. I bought my first set of 10 a little grudgingly, but I’ve come to love them and will be buying some more.

Milk crates have a lot of advantages, along with some disadvantages. First, since they’re smaller than any bookshelf, they’re really easy to move. Second, you can stack them and arrange them in all sorts of configurations. I have mine stacked against the wall on their sides in a 3 x 3 configuration, which is how I’m storing a lot of my books and other items. Third, they’re very strong, and since they’re made of plastic, liquids aren’t a problem. Finally, when I’m moving, I can just flip the boxes upright and stack them in my car.

That being said, they’re not as strong on their side as they are face-up, and tall sideways stacks can get unsteady, so I don’t like to stack them more than three high. Also, you can definitely find cheaper shelving options than milk crates, but I doubt those options would be quite as portable. Finally, I realize the aesthetics aren’t that pleasing.

Now, “I hear there’s rumors on the internets” that some folks are just picking up used milk crates from the grocery store. Don’t do that! The milk industry loses a lot of money from missing crates, and to the best of my knowledge, they belong to the dairy, not the grocery store itself. Instead, you can buy milk crates the ‘legit’ way at the Container Store. They cost $10, which isn’t necessarily cheap, but they’re sturdy, unlike some store-bought crates, and you have a number of colors to choose from. It looks like you may be able to find them for cheaper through other outlets, though.

I’ve heard that some milk is now being shipped without crates, which leads me to wonder if milk crates will be discontinued in my lifetime. While I hope that won’t happen, there are other modular, cubic storage options out there. They just happen to be more expensive, although at least they look better. Two alternatives are ZBoard ( ) and Brickbox ( )



These three storage solutions have helped me a lot, and I hope they’ll be of use to you also. Happy organizing!

Upgrading to 4K—and the long hunt for a laptop with 4K, 60fps output

Kenneth Burchfiel

11/13/2015 (updated: 11/20/2015)


[Note: in this post, I’m defining 4K as 3840 by 2160 pixels, not 4096 by 2160 pixels. Also, I make no guarantees that any of this info is accurate or up to date. Do your own research before buying computer equipment. Make sure to find the latest pricing and specifications data, and to look for newer models!]

After deciding it was time to upgrade to a 4K video camera (one that could shoot video at 3840 by 2160 pixels, 4 times the resolution of HD, I went ahead and got the Dell P2415Q monitor, which puts out 3840 by 2160 pixels at up to 60 hz. It was priced at $411 on Amazon when I bought it, and it’s a great display that I plan to use for a long, long time. ( ) (For a useful review and in-depth technical info, see )

Now that I had the monitor, my hope was that I could just connect my laptop and play 4K video on it. Unfortunately, my beloved current system (a 2011 Dell N411z with an i5 2430M processor) just didn’t have what it takes to render 4K video at even 30 frames a second. I tried a Plugable USB 3.0 to 4K adapter in hopes that it would give my laptop extra power, but while it worked fine, my computer still couldn’t render 4K footage. The monitor is great—my computer just isn’t up to the task of ultra-HD video rendering.

And so I started hunting for a laptop that could output 4K video, ideally at 60 frames per second (since I do plan to upgrade to a 60fps 4K camera one day). I didn’t realize how hard this would be. Let me explain why.

Currently, to put 4K video on an external monitor/TV at 60 frames per second, you need DisplayPort 1.2, or HDMI 2.0. And, of course, you need a processor and graphics card that will let you output that onto a monitor or TV.

The problem is that at the time I’m writing this (Nov. 12, 2015), HDMI 2.0 isn’t in wide use yet. It seems most new laptops are offering HDMI 1.4, which will at least let you output 3840×2160 pixels at 30hz (for the purposes of this article, hz and fps are interchangeable). But that shouldn’t be a problem, since DisplayPort/miniDP let you output 4K video at 60fps. And hey, that port is nothing new; I even have it on my current laptop.

So that brings up the second problem: DisplayPort has become pretty rare on new laptops. A lot of laptops, including ones with solid video cards and processors, are just offering HDMI 1.4 without any DisplayPort setup. But that effectively blocks me from outputting 4K at 60 fps without some elaborate workaround. Trust me, it’s frustrating that a port that’s on my 2011 laptop isn’t on a lot of 2015 laptops, even though that port can do more than HDMI 1.4!

And by the way, it appears that converting a DisplayPort signal from your computer to HDMI is fairly straightforward—but not the other way around.


This all led me on a hunt for a laptop that would have the processing power to render 4K video at 60 frames per second, and would be able to output that signal via HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort/miniDP, or Thunderbolt (which I believe will accomplish the same things at DisplayPort). Oh, and I didn’t want it to cost $1500. My goal was to find one below $1000.

This wasn’t an easy search. Maybe I’m missing out on a handy website that lets you narrow down a laptop choice from hundreds of products and all manufacturers. (I’m not interested in Apple at this time, by the way.) Instead, I essentially had to visit all the manufacturer’s websites, click on laptops that looked promising, and then see if they had the right ports.

But fortunately, I did find some that meet my criteria—or at least appear to. Please note that some of these are very new, so make sure any online review you check out is looking at these new models, rather than ones released earlier in 2015.


  1. MSI P Series PE 60 6QE-031US

I’m so glad that I learned about MSI’s new laptop models before making my final choice. The MSI PE60 6QE-031US has a 6th generation i7 processor (i7-6700HX), and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M graphics card with 2 gigabytes of GDDR5 memory. It also comes with 8 GB of memory and a 1 TB hard drive, and still includes a DVD player.

What’s most important (for me) is the laptop’s great connectivity. It has a Mini DisplayPort connector, along with a USB Type C port that supports USB 3.1. The site says that this Type C port (which they’re calling a “Super Port”) can drive 2 4K monitors, so I’m guessing it can also drive one 4K monitor at 60 hz. At any rate, the Mini DisplayPort connector should be able to take care of 4K video at 60 hz.

The MSRP of this laptop is only $999, which I think is a bargain. At this point, it’s the laptop I intend to buy to fulfill my 4K, 60 fps dreams.

(See )


  1. Dell Alienware 13 R2 (6th generation i5 processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5 memory):

(This is the model I ended up buying, since I liked the smaller 13” form factor.) As far as I know, this gaming computer should play 4K video just fine, even at 60 frames per second. And it has tremendous connectivity: among other ports, it has a Thunderbolt 3 Port (which has support for DisplayPort, and an HDMI 2.0 port.) Both of these will take care of my 60 fps 4K needs. If only they were available on more laptops!

I must say, I especially like this quote from the product page:

“Blow your hair back: Use your USB Type- C™ port as a Thunderbolt 3 port, and experience 40Gbps (4x the USB 3.1 protocol) or drive 4K displays as if the port were a Thunderbolt or DisplayPort. Or maximize your options by daisychaining your Thunderbolt devices together.”

Oh, and in case there was any doubt about the 60hz capability:

“Run 4K resolution content @60Hz using the new HDMI 2.0 port, for better resolution, smoother graphics and an overall upgrade in awesomeness.”

Thunderbolt 3 looks really awesome. It’s based on DisplayPort 1.2, but it doubles the bandwidth, so you can use it to run 1 4K display at 120hz, a 5K display at 60HZ, and 2 4K displays at 60hz!

Thunderbolt 3 appears to use a USB C port—unlike Thunderbolt 1 and 2 (which used a port like the miniDP). That means that I’ll need to buy some sort of USB C to DisplayPort adapter for my monitor, like this one:

By the way, for a list of Thunderbolt-compatible devices, check out .

This laptop is retailing for $949.99 right now, but I’m hoping the price will drop in time for Black Friday. The cheapest ($949) version does have its drawbacks. I will probably want to upgrade the hard drive and RAM, which would cost extra. Also, I’m not sure it has a card reader (???), but I could just buy an external adapter for below $10. What matters is that it has the Thunderbolt and HDMI 2.0 ports—and the new processor and NVIDIA graphics card.


But the Alienware 13 R2 isn’t the only option that meets my needs and costs below $1,000. We also have:


  1. ROG GL551JW-WH71(WX) (Intel i7 4720HQ Processor, NVIDIA GeForce GTX960M with 2GB RDDR5 memory):

This is what I was planning to buy before I saw the Alienware option. It’s not the latest processor, but I’m sure it will be powerful enough to play 4K videos at 60 fps. And it has a mini DisplayPort, which will let me get the most out of my monitor. (It doesn’t say that the card reader supports SDXC, which is what I’ll be using for my video camera. What is it with the lack of SD card support in these laptops?)

The price right now is just $799 on the ASUS website, and it already comes with a 1 TB HD and 8GB of memory. All of this makes me tempted to choose it over the Alienware laptop above, but I love that the Alienware has the HDMI 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the Alienware’s processor is newer. I think either of these will be great for me, but I’m willing to spend a little extra for HDMI 2.0, which I expect to become standard in the coming years.


Yet another option:


Price: $899.00

This laptop has the 6th generation Intel processors. The graphics are integrated (Intel HD Graphics 520), and I haven’t looked into their power yet. (I do prefer having a dedicated graphics card, not one built into the CPU.) But again, it has the mini displayport, so I think it would fit my needs. Thanks ASUS for including both HDMI and the Mini Displayport!


  1. Dell XPS 13

This one starts at $799, but that’s for just an i3 processor (albeit 6th gen). You can get an i5 processor and 8GB of memory for $999. It has the Thunderbolt 3 port, which is really what matters here, but strangely, it looks like you need to buy a Dell Adapter for some important features—even Ethernet?

Well, here’s what the page says:

“Charge and connect your XPS to a single data and power source to allow for the ultimate display performance − up to three Full HD displays or two 4K displays − and faster data transfers with the Dell Thunderbolt™ Dock with Intel® Thunderbolt™ 3 cable.”

Also, it doesn’t have the dedicated graphics card that I’m seeing in other laptops, and the fact that Dell’s only offering solid state drives concerns me. Does that mean it won’t support a 2.5” hard drive? I think I’ll ultimately choose the XPS 15 over this one.



Other good-looking options that cost $1000 or more (and remember, prices do change!):

  1. ASUS N550JX-DS74T

Current price: $1099.00

A great-looking laptop with a mini Display port.


  1. Dell Precision 15 7000 Series (7510)

Current price: $1195.50 (but apparently the starting price was $1,707.86, so that’s quite a discount)

This is a mobile workstation with a 6th-generation Intel processor and an AMD FirePro W5170M Graphics Card with 2GB GDDR5 memory. It has both HDMI and miniDP, and in January 2016, it will have Thunderbolt 3 support. Just a bit expensive relative to my other options.


  1. Alienware 15 laptop:

$1199.99. It does come with 8GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive, so the price isn’t too far from the Alienware 13” price. Oh, and the screen is better too. It includes the Thunderbolt 3 port and a 3-in-1 card reader, and as long as you get the NVIDIA processor, you’ll get HDMI 2.0 also. The weight is 7 pounds, which is pretty substantial as far as laptops go.


  1. Dell XPS15 (i5 option):

Listed price: $1199 (there’s also an i3 model for $999)

The XPS15 gives you a 1 TB Hard Drive, 8GB of memory, a 6th gen. i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and a GeForce GTX 960M graphics card with 2GB of memory. You also get a full-HD display. It also has an HDMI port and Thunderbolt 3, which I believe will let you power DisplayPort displays (although that feature’s not listed explicitly on the page).

The HDMI port is 1.4, but I believe you will be able to convert Thunderbolt 3 to HDMI 2.0, perhaps through an adapter. I’m not certain on this point, though. See:


Honestly, if the price drops down to $999, it would be an especially attractive option, if only because I like the design so much.


I would also believe that you can find miniDP on some Lenovo Thinkpads, but I’m not sure they have HDMI as well—and I’d really prefer to have both options, since I don’t think DisplayPort support on TVs is very good.


In the future, I expect to see plenty of options for 4K, 60 fps support. There are two reasons for this: HDMI 2.0 and the USB type C port.

First, I imagine that HDMI 2.0 will become standard, which will allow for an easy connection to an HDMI 2.0 TV or monitor. HDMI 2.0 supports 4K at 60 hz, so that will take care of my audiovisual needs.

Second, and perhaps even more exciting, the USB Type C port is coming out. Now, it’s important to understand that the mere fact that a laptop or other device has a Type C port doesn’t guarantee that it will support one standard or another. The port is just a physical entity.

However, the reason why this is big news is that both Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort will be supported over USB Type C for some (not necessarily all) laptops. For instance, the new Dell XPS and Alienware computers that I discussed above have a USB Type C port that supports Thunderbolt 3. This means that once USB Type C becomes commonplace, perhaps Thunderbolt and DisplayPort will enter the laptop mainstream also. (I don’t see why laptops with a USB Type C port wouldn’t include Thunderbolt or Mini Displayport capabilities on that port, provided the hardware (eg processor and chipset) supports it.) For more info on getting DisplayPort via a Type C port, see:

Finally, maybe USB 3.1 Gen 2 will be able to support 60hz 4K video through a video graphics adapter or converter. One article disputes this, but there are USB 3.0 to 4K 30hz adapters out there, and USB 3.1 doubles the speed of 3.0, so perhaps with the proper video graphics adapter, USB 3.1 will indeed support 4K at 60 fps.

In short, I expect USB Type C ports to become common on laptops. And I hope that many (or most) of those ports will support Thunderbolt 3 or Mini DisplayPort. But even if Thunderbolt and Mini DisplayPort don’t become common, there’s always HDMI 2.0 (or maybe even USB 3.1 Gen 2).

In the meantime, I’m glad that there are at least a few laptops with 4K 60 fps external monitor/TV support that you can already buy now.

How I plan to recover my data using Dropbox if I lose all my physical files

(Disclaimer: I have been scared away from Dropbox by forum posters who warned me that using Dropbox on an external drive can lead to data loss. I’m now using IDrive instead. If you choose to use Dropbox on an external drive, you do so at your own risk!)

Kenneth Burchfiel

In this post, I’m testing to see if I will be able to recover my Dropbox files from the cloud in the (very unlikely) event that all of my hard drive data, from all of my hard drives, in multiple states and buildings, is lost. In other words, if the online Dropbox folder is the only place left on Earth for my data, will I be able to get it back on my physical drives? Fortunately, by testing a data loss scenario, I was indeed able to recover all my data. In this post, I explain my method of doing so.

Please note that this isn’t the only way to restore your data, and your circumstances may favor a different, less intense restoration plan. But this is the plan I will use for total, worst-case-scenario data loss.

To do this data loss test, I’m starting from a completely empty Dropbox, except for some shared photo folders.

For this test, I have Dropbox on my computer’s C Drive, although normally I would have it on my external drive. My ‘data’ for the experiment consists of 10 photos, which total about 22 MB in size.

  1. I simulate total data loss by deleting the 10 pictures in my computer’s Dropbox folder.
  1. Because Dropbox is a sync program, once these 10 photos are deleted, they’re also deleted from the online folder if Dropbox is currently running. But bear with me — there’s no reason to panic, because you can restore deleted Dropbox files within 30 days (provided you haven’t gone the extra mile and permanently deleted them.)

Note that if I lost all my Dropbox data on my computer, but I didn’t have the program running, step 2 wouldn’t actually have happened. Either way, I now turn to step 3.

  1. I pause Dropbox syncing (if it’s going on), and then exit Dropbox. (If you don’t have Dropbox running, you can go to step 4.)
  1. I uninstall the Dropbox program from my computer. (This may sound scary, but don’t worry! To the best of my knowledge, uninstalling the Dropbox program from your computer will not delete the data on your cloud.
  1. Now that Dropbox is uninstalled, I delete the Dropbox folder from my computer. For good measure, I even remove it from the recycle bin. (Again, don’t worry! To the best of my knowledge, now that you’ve uninstalled Dropbox from your computer, your data on the cloud won’t be deleted if you delete your Dropbox folder.)
  1. Now I go to my online Dropbox folder, and check for any deleted items. If there are any, I restore them.
  1. Next, I reinstall Dropbox by going online, clicking on my username, and selecting ‘install.’ Once you complete the install process, you’ll have a brand-new Dropbox folder on your computer.
  1. I prefer to store my Dropbox folder on my external drive, but once Dropbox completes the install process, the folder initially goes on my C drive. So I pause the Dropbox sync process, go to preferences, and move the folder to my external drive. (I like to give the folder in my drive that contains the Dropbox folder a slightly different name than before, but I’m sure this isn’t necessary.) Then I hit ‘resume syncing.’ If your Dropbox folder is on your computer, you can skip step 7.
  1. At this point, my 10 photos begin downloading from my online Dropbox. They all download, so now I have my data back! From here, I would go ahead and back up my data to multiple drives.

I then tested these same steps when the Dropbox folder was initially on my external drive (which is where I’ll be placing it ‘in real life.’) It only took me 8 minutes and 27 seconds to get to step 8, and my 10 photos made it back onto my external drive just fine. So whether I put my Dropbox on my computer or on my external drive, now I know that I’ll get my data back, even if I lose all of my physical drive data. Now it’s time to upload about 860 gigabytes of data to Dropbox, knowing that it will be safe!

Now, I did notice that my files were downloading at a little over a megabyte a second. So downloading everything could take upwards of 11 days nonstop. Better than never getting your data back, of course!

You may ask: why not just (1 launch the Dropbox program, (2 restore the files online, and (3 let them download? I think this would work fine too, but I prefer uninstalling and reinstalling Dropbox because in a complete data loss scenario, my original computer Dropbox drive might not even be accessible, and this way I could install Dropbox and restore my files on a new drive. Also, if I connect the empty computer drive, even more Dropbox files could be deleted (since it would sync the deletions to the cloud), and I’d have to restore those too. So it seems simpler just to uninstall and reinstall Dropbox.

And finally, remember! You can always restore deleted/lost content online (as long as you restore it within 30 days, and you haven’t permanently deleted it), and that content will sync back onto your computer’s Dropbox folder. So as far as I’m concerned, Dropbox is safe as a file backup system as long as you’re also backing up your content to plenty of external drives in different places, and provided that you understand what 2-way file synchronization (not backup or mirroring) entails.