Tag: backups

  • Clone Wars Watchlist

    A Mind Changed

    About two years ago, after a primary hard drive failure, I wrote a long post on what I called the “backup tripod”. As I said then, the tripod consists of three classes of regularly performed backup: offsite clones, incremental local backups, and cloud backups. For me, that consisted of Carbon Copy Cloner, Time Machine, and a few files on Dropbox on an as-needed basis, respectively. I think that the trade-offs of each leg of the tripod make for a complete solution, so you need all of them.

    At the time, I was pretty strongly against any sort of comprehensive cloud backup solution. I was suspect of their security practices, and disliked the lack of control. I think this was in part inspired by bad experiences with Windows backup products for my work desktop, as well as the sketchy TV commercials from companies like Mozy. I’ve since changed my mind, convinced in large part by The Wirecutter‘s selection of Crashplan as their Best Online Backup Service. Why do I trust their review? A combination of Daring Fireball‘s recommendation, and the fact that we are very happy with the Omega 8300 juicer that they recommended. Crashplan’s own website also talks about security in a knowledgeable way, which makes me think they’re engaging in best practices.

    Another factor is that due to a little life change (marriage to Andrle!), I’m now backing up more than just my own computer. Crashplan’s family plan takes care of that, for her 11″ MacBook Air, since we don’t currently run OS X Server or own a Time Capsule. While we have an offsite clone of her laptop, a cloud backup service can capture more recent changes. Unfortunately we’re not always on top of updating those offsite clones, so they can lag behind by a month or more, which is just asking for data loss.

    The Third Leg

    At first glance, it might seem that an online backup service is all you need; it provides a combination of the benefits of an offsite backup and incremental backups. It is both complete and updated regularly. However, while I’m sure Crashplan would be quite happy if they were your only backup provider, I maintain that you still need all three. Each of the other two legs still has an advantage: speed of recovery and frequency of increment.

    My initial Crashplan backup (roughly 450 GB) took almost two weeks. Obviously part of that problem is the ridiculous imbalance in downstream vs. upstream bandwidth with almost all ISPs, including Comcast. Downloading to restore from backup wouldn’t be quite that slow, but could easily be a couple of days after a catastrophic failure. The second problem is that I’d need some working OS install with which to run the Crashplan client. These two downsides are both solved by the first leg, a bootable offsite clone. I store mine in a locked drawer in my locked office in a locked building at work, which is only a 20 minute round trip by bicycle if I had a data emergency. Crashplan does offer seeded backups and restores, but it’s well over $150 which at best gets it to you on a hard drive the next day. Although this wouldn’t be a problem for me, it’s also limited to a 1 TB USB drive, which for some people probably isn’t nearly enough.

    While Crashplan does promise regular backups, that can’t always help you back off a very recent set of changes, or an accidental deletion right after making changes. That’s where the combination of OS X Lion’s Versions feature and Time Machine can save you on a per-file basis (and, as before, Dropbox may be useful).

    Speaking of Dropbox, it has an additional role for me these days: synchronization for iOS apps. iCloud is still a pretty nascent feature, and for me only really helps moving data within one app between my iPhone and iPad. Dropbox, because it’s not post-filesystem, provides some combination of cloud backup and cloud sync for files across all of my computers and devices. Probably the most important example of this is my 1Password keychain, synced between my home and work desktops and my iOS devices, which is absolutely critical since I use generated passwords everywhere. I also use it to move files into GoodReader on my iPad for work, and to export files from Textastic, which I occasionally use for code editing. (I should add that my iDevices are backed up to my computer, not iCloud.)

    Overall I think Crashplan will fit in fairly seamlessly to my current backup solutions. Obviously the hope is that I’ll never need it!

    Social Media Exports

    One quick aside that’s related to backups generally, but not so much to backing up your computer: update a local copy of your social network data periodically. At least for me, I generate a lot of content on Facebook and Twitter, and I would be sad to lose it. A data loss on their end is probably less likely than some kind of major service change, but either of them could make it impossible to access your old posts.

    Somewhat ironically, Facebook makes this a lot easier than Twitter; just go to Account Settings and click the tiny “Download a copy” link at the bottom of the page. Unfortunately Twitter doesn’t provide API access to anything but your 2000 most recent tweets; I hope this changes at some point. I have all of my tweets being archived to Pinboard, but that only goes back to May 2011, missing over two years of usage.


    Cloud backups now have my full blessing as part of the Backup Tripod. Crashplan seems to be the best service for the cost, and fits in well with the other legs of the tripod. The steps I’ve suggested in these two posts are fairly easy (albeit Mac-centric); at this point I think very few people have an excuse for losing data due to not having backups. I can’t reiterate this enough: back up your data, or someday you’ll get burned. Help your less-skilled family members set up automated backups that they don’t have to worry about.

    Increasingly our lives are recorded almost entirely in bits. While there are many advantages to this, too numerous to go into here, they are inherently much more ephemeral things. Regular backups are one of the best ways to avoid complete data loss, although it may need to be coupled with occasional conversions in order to avoid file format rot. Make sure you have a plan to protect all of your data, on your own devices and in the cloud.

  • Sunspot

    A small Yorkshire Terrier lies in a pet bed on a green upholstered chair in a sunny living room.

    I wish I could nap like Pike naps.

  • The Muppets Meet Murderbot

    For the last year and a half or so Andrle and I have been having a ton of fun as part of an online book club put together by my friend Tanya. Unlike most book clubs where you all read the same thing, we all just share things we love that we’ve been reading.

    One recommendation that kept coming up was The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and I’m glad we finally ran with it and started reading them. We’ve been bingeing the last few weeks and they’re really, really great. Highly recommend (even though I’m only on Book 4.)

    Unsurprisingly another thing I’ve been reading about and thinking about a lot is the advent of Large Language Models, particularly as manifested by ChatGPT. My past work life as an NLP practitioner has me a mix of curious, envious, and highly suspicious of what these are and how they’re being used. In the short term I don’t mind using them as a toy that I can play with for the purpose of a joke, which is what this post is about.

    A recurring topic in this book club is how we might have the Muppets interpret a particular book, or how we might recast a movie with Muppets (but keep one human actor). This provides a lot of fun discussions, especially since I grew up regularly watching the classic Muppet movies on VHS recorded off of TV, and I really like musicals.

    That all brings me to some prompt iterating that I did to get ChatGPT to write the painfully cliché finale to a Muppet musical featuring Murderbot. (Apologies to both Henson and Wells.)

    Verse 1 (Murderbot):
    I used to be a killing machine,
    A rogue cyborg, feared and mean,
    But then I met the Muppets and Kermit,
    And learned what friendship truly meant.

    Verse 2 (Kermit):
    I'm just a simple frog, it's true,
    But I believe in friendship too,
    And when I met Murderbot, I knew,
    Together we could do something new.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    Verse 3 (Murderbot):
    I never wanted to be a tool,
    But that's all humans see in me, it's cruel,
    I used to dream of breaking free,
    From their endless schemes and greed.

    Verse 4 (Kermit):
    It's true, I'm always happy-go-lucky,
    But I've been through some tough times that were quite yucky,
    But now with Murderbot and the gang,
    I know our friendship will never hang.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    The past is gone, the future bright,
    With friends like these, we'll win the fight,
    Our love and trust will guide us through,
    Together we'll see this journey through.

    Chorus (All):
    We don't need to kill no more,
    Our friends are all we're fighting for,
    With Murderbot and Kermit side by side,
    We'll show the world what we stand for.

    So let's raise our voices high,
    And let the world hear our battle cry,
    With Muppets and Murderbot side by side,
    We'll change the world and turn the tide.
    OpenAI. (2023, Mar. 16) [Iterative prompt conversation starting with “This Muppet movie is about a rogue cyborg traveling to different space stations and learning the power of friendship from the Muppets” and “I need some lyrics for the big finals. The music is big broadway style number about how the rogue cyborg doesn’t need to kill bad guys anymore because it has friends.” and then encouraging more dialogue between Kermit and Murderbot] https://chat.openai.com/

    Yes, I looked up recommendations on how to properly cite ChatGPT output.

    Overall the result was mildly amusing. I couldn’t get it to capture Murderbot’s signature style, presumably because while information about the novellas are in its model training, not enough text from the novellas are in there.

    I’m still not sure what useful things I could do with this kind of tool, but in the meantime, I can make it make silly songs.

  • Fox Ferocity

    Pike playing with a toy almost as big as he is.

  • Groomed Pike

    Tiny freshly groomed Yorkie sits on a teal couch wearing a monstera bow tie

    I love this little gentleman.

  • The Kale Wanter

    A small black and brown Yorkie stands on a cream rug in front of a brown cupboard begging for the bunch of lacinato kale in hand in the foreground.