Taran Rampersad's blog

Backups, Backups, Backups

The Backup TruckMemory is the treasury and guardian of all things. - Cicero, Philippicæ, IX. 5.

 

Back in the 80s and early 90s, we backed up data from our computers because bad things could happen to the machines themselves. Horror stories of losing gobs of data never went viral because people didn't have social media back then. It was a different era - hard drives didn't seem to last as long as they do now (though they may have). Since then things have changed - bloated file formats (hello, Microsoft!) have made files larger - and the Internet, marketed largely as The Cloud by various companies, makes backups to other sites much more feasible - though imperfect.

We have privacy issues now, where data can be gotten to by password security issues - problems of a provider or a user.

We have issues of not being able to access a network when a backup is needed to be restored.

In essence, while the world of technology has given us brilliant solutions for backing up our data it has also provided new problems.

The usefulness of a backup, though, is only as good as it's ability to be restored.

 

The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living. - Cicero, Philippicæ, IX. 5.

 

There are general rules when backing things up.

  • Backup frequently.
  • Attempt to restore backups frequently.
  • Backups should be in a geographically separate environment than the actual data.
  • Backups should be at least as secure as your need for them to be private. Paranoia is good.

When I'm backing up a MySQL database off of a server, as an example, I test the backup on a local server. Why? Because if I can't restore a backup and have business as usual, then it isn't a backup. It's just wasted space. And since I don't host web servers where I am, a calamity over there doesn't translate to a problem here. I've seen so many servers storing their own backups that I wrote that. There's no nice way to say this: It Is Stupid. It's a sign to me that the people who set that up don't understand why they're backing things up.

In the same way, storing backups of your hard drive on the same hard drive is...

Of course, security plays a role. You might want to back up all your documents to a USB stick - easily done now - but now you have to make sure that the backup doesn't go somewhere you don't want it to go. Like a competitor.

The Cloud? Sure. Great place to store data - but remember, too, that it's now easier for others to access that data. Your data isn't as secure as the Cloud provider, it's as secure as your own security as well as their security. Someone's stolen laptop can mean some 12 year old editing your files in the cloud or a competitor getting something that they need.

If it's your data, you probably should have a physical copy of it somewhere that you can physically control... or it's really not your data, is it? With the low price of data backup, there's very little excuse to not back things up and have a physical copy yourself - maybe not as frequently as backups to the cloud, but frequently enough that you know you have a copy.

Image at top courtesy Ruben Molnes through a Creative Commons License. Click Image for details.

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The Chromebook: Prepping For Dev Work.

Chromebook Test

Chromebook Test (Photo credit: slgckgc)

With some problems with my main work machine last week I decided to get a cheap machine as a backup - because I like redundancies and because the economic rebound some speak of hasn't quite made it's way to my bank account. Chromebooks are cheap, and though I dislike having a dependency on any particular company, the Chromebook has potential. If it failed to handle what I needed it to do, I could always install Linux on it.

When Walmart.com had the Acer C7 Chromebook down to $199, I decided it was time. Having seen someone's cat destroy a Chromebook over Skype (they weren't using it for Skype), I opted for the Walmart insurance as well. For $36 it covers drop damage for 2 years (amongst other things), so all told I spent about $240-$250 after taxes. I'm a contractor. It's a tax writeoff.

My first impressions of the Chromebook were colored by my want for physically solid machines. My phone feels solid. My main work machine feels solid. The Chromebook did not feel solid, but then it's because it's light. Until now my travelling laptop has weighed in at 10lbs. I suppose I might write something up on the Acer after I've spent more time on it. I can't understand how people can write a review on a machine that they just got. That's silly. You need at least a month.

Development

I'd done my research, though maybe Google could pay Ballmer to visit their Chromebook marketing department.. The Chromebook would be called upon to handle development and, really, that's not something that the marketers of Chromebooks are intent to talk about because their main market are... not developers. 

All of these made me more confident in purchasing a Chromebook as far as work.

What most developers articles on these things don't realize is that one process does not fit all.

Since my main workflow is typically from a local WAMP/LAMP setup with Git, this may alter the way I do things a bit. Sure, I'm a Free Software/Open Source person and that goes to clients but clients don't always want their code public even though it's GPL'd - sometimes they want to maintain a Trade Secret, or sometimes they just aren't going to distribute their code. When working with and/or managing developer groups, the client's server development environment is where it all happens - though sometimes you walk into situations where unresolved office politics can leave too many keys to the server out there.

And there's always Github.

I suppose I should have expected Google to have tailored what apps it suggested based on my gmail account and google searches I've done while logged in - but I found it a bit creepy.

ShiftEdit and CodingTheWeb were the only ones I installed.

In fiddling around this weekend, I decided that so far I prefer using NeutronDrive - the main selling point to me being all the different Editor modes available and the fact that it leverages Google Drive (working a single dev project). Is it better or worse than the other IDEs/repositories? I have no idea yet, I've only really toyed with one - but the present project involves lots of use of Google Drive already. I am concerned about how multiple users editing the same file at the same time might not work well, but for one dev projects it's a workable solution.

With larger projects, it will depend on the size of the team - so it might be a development server's Git, it might be Github. It will depend on the project. With SSH on the Chromebook, it's not that difficult - and with a little network setup, I can have the Chromebook connect to a local WAMP/LAMP as needed.

The Web Developer's Achilles Heel.

No one seems to have mentioned this in any of the posts that I've read, but there's an issue with web development on the Chromebook that is the elephant in the room. Your browser. On a Chromebook, you're locked into Google Chrome - so you're out of luck for front end development. Since I mainly do back end development, it's not too big of a deal for me - but it's something that means that you can't always see what the client sees. While the machine is good for development, it's not necessarily good for evaluating browser glitches.

The Skype Issue

Skype has become a central tool for people who work across the Internet - Google Hangouts seem to be nice for some, but I have yet to encounter anyone who uses them effectively. We all know that Skype works on Android. Why it doesn't work on Chromebooks seems to have been a business decision by Google - and a crappy one at that. Here's Google's writeup on Skype on a Chromebook.

Overall

I've committed myself to working with the out-of-the-box Chromebook for a while. It's not because I like Google - I'm ambivalent about Google - but it's because I want to give it a fair shake. The lack of Skype and the inability to use other browsers is very limiting for web development work in general, but these I can work around with different machines - at least for now. The second I need to run Skype or other browsers on the Chromebook, I'll have a little entry on installing Linux on a Chromebook.

Ubuntu does seem popular for that.

 

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Unplugged: Why I Left Mobile Phone Contracts

I used to have U.S. Cellular service that I paid for, and while I was in Wisconsin it worked well. In Illinois, it worked well. In New York, it was painful.

When I moved to Florida, it became useless. Constant roaming, bound to a contract and so on, I was stuck with bad service that was just an issue of circumstance. U.S. Cellular has no offices in Florida, so I knew that I'd have to switch service providers sooner or later - but when I tried calling U.S. cellular, repeatedly, I was in AT&T Hell. I spent hours on the phone trying to talk to people at U.S. Cellular and couldn't.

On their website it said that I should call them, after all, and call I did - over and over and over. I did my due diligence. They were still charging me for service that I couldn't use (a full data plan, etc) or use well. My phone became something I despised.

They finally cut it off after I decided to stop paying them - for lack of human communication, the dollar counts - and I'll dispute the hell out of any debt that they say I have because I tried.

In looking around at other phones, I saw that I could join other services - AT&T, T Mobile, etc. - but this bad experience with U.S. Cellular stayed on my mind. In life, stuff like that happens and you're supposed to learn from it.

The Bigger Picture

The larger networks provide the better service because they strangle those with smaller networks, so pitching in to a contract with a larger provider just didn't seem to be how I wanted to spend my money. Sure, I would likely get better service from TMobile or AT&T, but in that way I'm reinforcing the very cause of the problems I had with U.S. Cellular. And signing contracts for a phone... I think as a society we probably should have evolved from that years ago.

Brass Tacks

I need a phone - I don't use it much and really hate long conversations with people speaking directly in my ears (well, with exceptions beyond what I would write in a public place!) - and despite talk of an economic rebound, the reality is that as a contractor I have to watch costs and be flexible in my dealings because one never knows what will happen tomorrow. A contract, therefore, simply doesn't make sense. In a world where others haven't been great at honoring their commitments to me, I have to honor my commitments to others. I tried with U.S. Cellular but could not speak to anyone for months!

Walmart FAIL (again)

And so, at Walmart, I decided I'd go with their Walmart 'pay as you go' phone. They had an Android phone for $49.88, but the Associates were overwhelmed by large elderly women in riding carts (really) -  and the phone required an Associate to take the phone off the shelf. Across from them, for a bit more, was a better Android phone from StraightTalk.com for about $100. Since I was already irked about how I did not buy fish, I went with the higher priced phone that wasn't on sale because:

  • I could pick it up without assistance that I couldn't get.
  • It wasn't a contract phone.
  • The price was reasonable.
  • In a world of Moore's Law, this phone was less likely to become archaic.

Now, StraightTalk said it was powered by Tmobile on the package. But when I powered the phone up, what did it say? Tracphone.

Go figure.

 

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