My horribly incomplete backup plan

It’s been a long time since I took a hard look at my backup situation, but a series of blog posts in my reader has caused some naval gazing.

A long time ago in a computer far far away

My backup plan was once dead simple. I used CCC or Super Duper to create a clone of my boot drive whenever I thought of it. Sometimes I was good and did it weekly, sometimes I went months without.

Thankfully I had no crashes during this period. I never had to experience the frustration of losing a month of data.

Let’s do the time warp again

Time Machine! I was so excited when I finally got a drive to use with it. I turned it on and got frustrated any time it monopolized my I/O attempting to back up. Honestly I can’t tell you if specifically Snow Leopard fixed it, but I haven’t gone searching for the Time Machine menu to stop the backup for a long time.

I still did my Super Duper backups, but it became less of a priority because it wasn’t automated.

Disaster

It finally happened. I lost my boot drive (which was under warranty thankfully). I could cool off the drive and get a few minutes of work, but not enough time to do a Super Duper backup and I/O just made it die faster. I was using my Super Duper drive to temporarily back someone else up.

Luckily, I had a Time Machine backup ready to go. That was almost not the case as just weeks before I finally replaced the power supply on my Time Machine disk (thank you OWC for quick diagnosis and replacement).

It was time to see if the machine would do its job.

It just worked

Once I got my replacement boot drive, it was time to stick in the SL disk and try the restore. As you can already guess, it worked. I selected my Time Machine disk and initiated the restore.

Your mileage may vary, but Time Machine is now my preferred method for incremental and bulk backup. There are a few reasons why.

  1. I don’t have to do anything to keep it up to date. Seriously, no matter how many calendar reminders or OCD you are, backup plans fail when you need to do something on a schedule rather than the machine do it for you.
  2. It protects you from your own stupidity. Clones are great, but they won’t help you dig out a file you deleted three weeks ago unless you either didn’t backup since then (shame on you) or you keep a clone rotation large enough to have a backup old enough (expensive and impractical for most as well as having the problem of requiring lots or manual interaction).
  3. You can do a bulk restore easily despite it not being a bootable disk. Stick in your Mac OS X install DVD and you can do it with a few clicks.

The moving target

Time Machine works great if you have a desktop or regularly connect your computer to a series of peripherals, but I haven’t chained a laptop down like that in years. Needless to say, the cloning plan I used on my MacBook wasn’t working for me.

I could in theory use a Time Capsule to use Time Machine for this situation. Problem 1 is that I’m cheap. Time Capsules are expensive. Problem 2 is that assuming I could get it accessible using Back to My Mac behind my FiOS router, it’s not really supported.

The solution was to use Crashplan. If you use their software to backup to another computer belonging to you or a friend, it’s free. I have a computer that’s on a lot with lots of storage and it’s own backup plan in place! I installed the software, told the Mac Pro to use a specific hard drive as the destination, and initiated backup from the MacBook.

Now anytime the two are on at the same time, the MacBook will back up to my Mac Pro regardless of local network or over the Internet proximity. Crashplan has fantastic in the background incremental backup. It meets the requirement of doing its work without me.

I only have it set up to back up my home directory, but I don’t store significant irreplaceable data anywhere else, so at worst I reinstall and then restore my home directory.

The Achilles heel

As written (correctly) elsewhere, my backup plan is incomplete. One fire at my house would wipe it all out. More specifically, my plan doesn’t include offsite backup.

When I finally stop being cheap (can’t help it), I will probably sign up for Crashplan’s subscription service. I have two options for that.

  1. I purchase the single computer plan and backup only the Mac Pro. That actually covers both computers.
  2. I buy the family plan and set both computers to use it. The MacBook would still back up to the Mac Pro as well because assuming I connect it to my network, restoration would be much faster from the Mac Pro. It also lets anyone living with me back up their computers.

I’m not saying my plan is a blue print for everyone else. I am saying that you need to consider the profound importance of a backup strategy that requires no action on your part. The biggest risk in any backup plan is always you. Backups are for the improbable situation. The most probable unfortunate event is you failing to connect your backup drive and running your backup software. Take it out of the loop, or at the very least, make it a redundant bonus.

Posted in Macs | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Behold the wonder of IMAP caching

I’m a fan of Low End Mac‘s Mac catalog. It’s a quick and easy way to go look up vital stats about old computers, such as when they were released, the original specifications, and the original price. I’ve settled many quibble’s using its information.

However, their other columns present sometimes out of date, and sometimes even wrong information. For example, Charles Moore often writes about the failure of IMAP. This goes back years, but let’s check out the latest installment.

Why am I not an IMAP fan? Guess I’ve spent too many years with slow Internet access and prefer to have my email archives on my hard drive and accessible without being online. Not many wireless hot spots in this neck of the (literal) woods, and with IMAP your messages remain on the central mail server, whereas POP downloads all messages in your inbox onto your computer where you can access them for reference whether you’re online or not.

I appreciate that IMAP can be a good choice for people who need to access email from multiple computers, but for my own accounts where that is more convenient, I use Gmail with POP access configured to leave the messages on the Gmail server, which seems to me the best of both worlds.

The entire argument centers on the idea that IMAP doesn’t allow for email reading and searching when you’re not online. That would be a great argument against its use in some cases (as it is for webmail) if it were true. It’s not.

The fact is that IMAP email clients for as long as I can remember have cached the contents of your IMAP account. Mail.app does it. Entourage does it. Thunderbird does it. There may have been cases in the long past when this was turned off by default, but I can’t remember the last time I had to check the “Cache my mail” option.

If you’ve ever watched Mail.app’s Activity Viewer when working with an IMAP account, you’ll notice it making a series of connections as it traverses your folder structure, downloading headers, and the message bodies of all your email. It writes them to your disk and from that point on, if you try to look at that email and you’re offline, it simply reads it from the disk.

It seems totally obvious if you take a moment to think about it. When you do a Spotlight search, it goes through all your email trying to find that phrase. Does it really seem practical or even possible (when accounting for speed) that it would be prodding a server for all that information every time you did a search? Of course not.

The fact is that there is no good reason to use POP over IMAP anymore. None. Well, that is unless you have a hankering to use Claris Emailer again.

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Google Gears maintenance isn’t a priority for Google

The recent Firefox 3.6 update made me re-examine my add-ons as always. What struck me as odd was that Google Gears wasn’t compatible. Clearly that was a mistake. Google couldn’t possibly ignore the chosen browser of most of the tech elite.

It’s not totally ignored no. Indeed there’s a ticket for the problem. It has a Medium priority. Medium? Not working with Firefox isn’t that important?

That got me thinking. The last time I checked, the latest Safari in Snow Leopard wasn’t supported. Still true. Also has a Medium priority.

So, it’s not supported on Safari in Snow Leopard, the latest Firefox, or Chrome for Mac OS X. That leaves… nothing. No Snow Leopard support using the latest browsers.

There’s two conclusions. First, Google Gears isn’t a priority for Google. Second, Mac OS X support isn’t a priority for Google. Take your pick.

Edit: Turns out that I missed the Google announcement that Gears was effectively dead in favor of HTML5′s storage capability. While a move to a standard is good, nowhere on Google’s Gears site does it mention this fact. Indeed this fact probably makes all non-security Gears tickets a “WONT-FIX” but it’s very poorly being communicated and does nothing to address the fact that today’s sites with offline capabilities still use Gears.

In order to get any satisfaction as a Snow Leopard user, you’ll need to download Firefox 3.5.x. That’s a little backward.

Update: Finally, some kind of acknowledgement.

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Perspective

The three or four of you that have forgotten that you have me saved to your RSS reader of choice will likely suddenly realize that I’ve not written in a long time. I didn’t fall off the face of the earth or even end up in a ditch. The fact is I saturated myself in what I loved.

I love Macs and technology in general. Combine that with my work ethic-like approach to new things, and you can see how I could burn out. It became a job. An endless job of trying to turn a few grains of actual information into an expansive network of information. At one point, the site was effective enough to give you a way to track what I did minute to minute.

I’m not by any stretch of the imagination famous and it seemed to be too much. I began to feel paranoid about who knew what. It’s not even that I necessarily did anything bad or worth being ashamed about, but being approached by people about things you didn’t even give a second though to has a strange effect on one’s psyche.

As an aside, I feel that now that I’m back on Twitter. A casual mention of a product is enough to get a response from a corporate representative. Empowering and creepy at the same time.

Backing off from this site and eventually my Mac blogging job gave me some relief. It also afforded perspective about what’s really important to me. As much as I like keeping up with the latest in the technology world, treating it like a competition wasn’t making me happy. It made me frustrated.

By treating it as I should have all along, I could start to enjoy technology once again. The thrill of poking around at software had returned. I was doing it for fun and not to write another article late at night that ultimately was filled with information to keep commenters from turning into hecklers.

Make no mistake. The internet is filled with anonymity-empowered asshats. You can’t publish something to the internet without some basement dwelling, pop-tart scarfer correcting you on some minor, inconsequential piece of information. These are people so frustrated with their own situation that they’ll do anything in their power to transfer their angst to you.

The worst part is that it works. It gets to you. You can do great work. You can do it for years. You can bring great information to the table. The moment you have a typo, you’ll get the most vicious comment. It’s enough to drive you to rage and want to forsake the whole lot of them (and by whole lot of them, that include people genuinely appreciative of what you do, but don’t want to seem like sycophants by chiming in with “Great article” comments).

There are times when rather than using reason and wit to address and embarrass a jackass, you’d rather tell them “fuck you and the horse you rode in on.” You can almost taste that anger relief. It’s so sweet. You suck it up, try to be the bigger man, and bottle it.

It’s been a while since I’ve dealt with it, but it’s not far from my mind and in my travels across the web I find instances every day. These are established people in the industry that I respect and are generally the most patient I’ve found.

I think it’s time I return to the web at large, or, more aptly, a return to small portions of it. No longer am I going to try to be part of every growing trend. If the last couple of years have taught me nothing else, web services come and go. As much as I enjoy Twitter, the people that are proclaiming that it’s taking over the web are so far up their ass that they can’t see that Twitter will have its day and fade to the background, just like every other fad.

Twitter is the new Usenet. And I mean really, who remembers Vox? Do those web “experts” that proclaimed the death of email realize that all those email killers are dead?

I’m not going to get as invested as I once did. I’ll move with software and web services as the times dictate, but never build anything up as the solution to everything. Being obsessive sucks the fun out of things.

So… I’m back.

Posted in Personal | 3 Comments

For the record

To my towel, you’re awesome and I love you.

PS You’re still a towel.

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