Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Scheduling backups

In Gina Trapani's excellent HowTo backup at she suggests 3 folders, one backing up (same files to different folders) nightly, another weekly and the third once a month.
I set mine up slightly differently, and prefer it.
One folder backs up every second night. As it happens, the first time was an even numbered date.
The second backs up the same files, but starts on an odd numbered date (7th Oct, for illustration) and repeats every 4 days
The third also backs up every 4 days, but starting on the 9th.
This way:-
  1. There's a backup every night
  2. There's never 2 backups on the same night. Given the size of some of my files and the time taken using ethernet over mains, I felt this desirable.
  3. If anything goes wrong with a backup I've got between 3 and 6 days before I have to solve it.
The principle could be extended to 4 or more folders - 3 seemed a good balance between backup drive and doc folder sizes.

PS. Ethernet over mains allows the backup drive to be at the other end of the house, just in case. The house is 200 years old, unaccountably built without ethernet.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Using the subconscious

At school there was one (and only one) maths problem I couldn't solve; I thought it was a distance problem when it was actually a time problem - I was looking at it the wrong way.
It must have laid buried in my subconscious for 7 years - I don't think I ever thought about it, or why I couldn't solve it. Then the answer popped into my head, catching me completely by surprise. It took a minute or so to recall what on earth the original question was!
Jenny Ireland (now Crebbin) and I were chasing a boat which had broken from its moorings; as well as wondering how far down the beach it would come ashore I wondered when. That insight, that a distance problem could equally be a time problem, proved the trigger.
To this day I rely more than most on the subconscious' ability to re-organise disparate snippets into some new and insightful order. I'll often go to sleep with the snippets whirling around, knowing there's a good chance the answer (or at least the key next question) will pop out in the morning.
Difficult decision? Tricky personal issue? Make a 'pretend' decision or draft the response late at night, then go to bed. In the morning the subconscious will tell me if it's right or wrong, and if wrong, where to look next.

I'm neither the first nor the last to do this. Einstein said "The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don't know how or why."

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Unjustified blind faith in technology

More by luck than anything, I found my automatic backups weren't working. And hadn't worked for 9 months...
Having spent perhaps a grand on backup kit over the years (including 440 quid to recover a crashed hard drive) this hurt. In the hope it helps at least one person to avoid similar problems, here's the tale:-

  • The backup drive (NAS, at the other end of the house, connected by ethernet-over-mains) needs restarting manually after any power cut. I'd forgotten to do this. (We get a lot of power cuts. I read somewhere that the airport takes priority when suppliers are low, and on balance I'd prefer them to keep the runway lights on. Even if I'm not flying!)
  • The backup software didn't tell me. I assume if it can't see the drive (which was still switched off) it assumes I know what I'd doing. And I assumed it would tell me.
  • As far as I can tell the NAS drive got full sometime along the way. On previous occasions I'm sure it warned me, but - perhaps coincidentally ...
    • The backup software broke.
Bit of a fright, and quite a time sponge to sort through all the causes and get back to some sort of stability. Along the way I found Gina Trapani's excellent HowTo at
When it's a new, strange or forgotten area, I need instructions to start from what I don't know, not what the author does. And she did. Written Jan 2006, the page has had over half a million hits. She deserves every one.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Not the worst mistake, but thought provoking.

I hadn't twigged just how embedded computers had become. Until I dropped a small battery on the floor. And thought 'no problem, just hit Command + Z'
Should I get out more?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

First Blog

One of the great joys of this age is discovering how to mix and match technologies to achieve what we previously could not.
It's in that spirit that this Blog starts. Heaven knows where it will end, or travel en-route.

I'd planned to start with a rant, but actually don't have anything new to rant about today. Instead, some praise.
I stumbled across, and just thought the presentation and use of the technology was stunning. Be sure to click the enlarge and/or widescreen buttons until a small hotspot circle shows. Click this to show larger hotspots on the photo - click these to branch from the main panorama down some of the side alleys.
Why Bremen? Ryanair had made Val and I an offer we couldn't refuse - a day trip to Bremen for less money than staying home. I'd worked there - let's just say the last century shall we - and loved it then. This was the first time I'd been back, and (on a sparkling, cloudless day) loved it more. A terrific, beautiful, compact and accessible city.

Well well, I do feel a rant coming on. Seems to me the Germans, Danes and Swedes have an Integrated Transport Policy. In gloomier moments I think we Brits have none of those 3 words. Bremen mixes frequent, cheap trams, bikes (OK, it's flat) and cars with a degree of seamlessness I don't see elsewhere. It looks to me as if they built the flyover (in front of the station) and much other such infrastructure before the traffic choked them to death, not after (as we try to do).