rant

A Backup Restoration Story

For most of my computing lifetime, I didn't bother with backups. They were too much trouble, and back when it took 20 floppy disks to back up a Mac hard disk, they took too much time. But now with services like Time Machine, CrashPlan, Backblaze, Dropbox, and Google Drive, it is pretty easy to keep redundant copies of everything. I had files in these locations:

  • my main laptop
  • my old laptop (given to stepson for schoolwork), which still had all my files on it from the time before I got the new laptop
  • family iMac, which in addition to having copies of my important files also had an external hard drive that held Time Machine backups for all home computers
  • CrashPlan (offsite backup)
  • Dropbox (which is not really a "backup", but it means it's easy to maintain multiple copies of important files)

So I thought I was pretty well backed up, until a few events happened in a short period of time:

  1. My main laptop's SSD filled up with work-related stuff, so I deleted some big non-work-related stuff (Aperture library, virtual machine images), because I knew I had copies of those things on my old laptop, our iMac, and in CrashPlan offsite backup.
  2. My old laptop died when the kid dumped a glass of milk on it. So that's one old copy gone, but hey, we have others, right?
  3. The external hard drive that held our Time Machine backups failed. So I bought a new external drive and reconfigured Time Machine on all our machines to back up to it. That meant we lost our old Time Machine backups, I didn't worry because I knew I had copies of important stuff on the family iMac, and we'd have fresh new Time Machine backups in no time.
  4. The old family iMac died. We were lucky in that Apple botched the repair, and gave us a brand new machine to replace it, but the downside was that we lost everything that was on that machine's internal hard drive.

These events all happened within a month. In hindsight, I wish I'd reacted faster, but at the time, I just thought, "It's OK, we still have other backups."

So, anyway, we get this new iMac, and I figure I can just plug the external Time Machine drive into it and we'll have all our data back. But no: apparently I when I configured all the other family Macs to back themselves up to the family iMac's external drive, I neglected to configure the iMac to back itself up.

I had to fall back to the CrashPlan backup. I am very glad we had it, because otherwise we would have lost our family photo archives and some other important stuff. But the downside is that it has taken about five days to restore everything from CrashPlan. I don't know whether to blame our ISP or CrashPlan for the slowness of the restoration, but being unable to use that new machine for five days has been annoying.

CrashPlan's restoration functions suck. When I set up the CrashPlan app on the new iMac, it asked whether I would like to synchronize that new iMac with the old iMac's backup. "Sure, that would be awesome" I thought, and I clicked Yes. Then it took two days for the synchronization to complete, and during that time I couldn't restore anything.

Then, when synchronization finally completed, I checked the box to restore the entire hard drive and clicked the Restore button. CrashPlan spent a couple of hours counting up how many files that was and how big they were, and then it crashed. I tried again, waited a couple of hours again, and it crashed again. (So you need to have a plan for when CrashPlan crashes.)

Because it apparently couldn't restore the entire hard drive at once, I selectively restored individual folders (Applications, /Users/kdj, /Users/pebble, etc.). This worked, but again I had to sit at the computer for a long time while CrashPlan counted up all the files, because after selecting something, you can't click Restore until it finishes counting them up.

And then after restoring, I noticed some files missing, so I had to go back into CrashPlan and play with the options to get it to restore files from the date our old iMac died, and to include deleted/hidden files.

So, lessons learned:

  • Make sure all machines are backing up to Time Machine. Check this every week or so.
  • Restoring from CrashPlan sucks. Maybe that's just the nature of restoring a few hundred gigabytes of data over the Internet, but I may look into other options when my annual subscription expires.
  • When some link in the backup chain breaks, fix it right away.

Android SDK Tools 22.0.1 Considered Harmful

After finishing up some work on an iOS app today, it was time to go make equivalent changes to the Android port of that app. "I'll just update my Android SDK before I get to work," I said (to myself). I opened the Android SDK Manager and let it update these SDK packages to these versions:

  • Android SDK Tools: 22.0.1
  • Android SDK Platform-tools: 17
  • Android SDK Build-tools: 17

Then I let Eclipse update the ADT. Then I got to work. I opened my Android app project and tried to run it. I found I couldn't make a working debug build or a release build, nor could I create a signed APK to install on a device.

After a few hours of hair pulling, I got everything working. Here is what I learned. I hope it helps someone.

Death, Numbers, and Risk

Here are some numbers that many people don't know, or don't want to think about:

There are approximately 6.9 billion people in the world. On average,

  • about 55 million people die each year,
  • about 1.05 million people die each week,
  • about 151,000 people die each day,
  • about 6280 people die each hour, and
  • about 105 people die each minute.

Source: Wolfram Alpha

There are approximately 309 million people in the US. On average,

  • about 2.5 million people die in the US each year,
  • about 48,000 people die in the US die each week,
  • about 6860 people die in the US each day,
  • about 286 people die in the US each hour, and
  • more than 4 people die in the US each minute

Source: Wolfram Alpha

In round numbers, that's over 150,000 people dying every day, and almost 7,000 people dying in the US every day.

Many of these deaths are those of elderly people passing away in their sleep. Many are unmourned. But many are tragedies in the sense that a person has died too young, and grieving people are left behind.

So, when the news presents reports of people dying, ask yourself: Why is the news reporting these deaths, and not the 150,000 other deaths that happened today around the world, or the 7,000 other deaths that happened today in the US?

Is it because the reported deaths are more important than all the others, or is it because somebody found a way to make dramatic stories out of these particular deaths? Are the reported deaths indicative of larger patterns or important trends, or are they interesting because they happened in a public place and there is video available from several angles?

In fact, your chance of being killed by a terrorist or a mass shooter or an airplane crash or flesh-eating bacteria or a meteor or anything else reported by the media is almost equal to zero. These events are reported on the evening news because they are so rare.

So be careful about letting what you see on the news control your fears.

It is silly to worry about terrorists and mass shooters if you smoke cigarettes, eat a lot of fast food, or use your mobile phone while driving. The latter activities could kill you; the former just don't happen often enough for any reasonable person to worry about them.

You might want to turn your home into an armed fortress to protect your family from dangerous people. Before you do that, you should ensure that your family is eating healthy meals, getting lots of exercise, and getting regular medical checkups. You are more likely to save somebody's life by learning CPR and First Aid techniques than by learning martial arts or small-arms tactics. Make sure all the smoke detectors have fresh batteries before you worry about installing a high-tech security system.

When someone asks you to pray for the victims of some tragic event, ask why you should pray just for them, and not for the one million people who died in other ways that week, or for the million that died the previous week, or for the million who will die the following week.

When somebody tells you that thousands of people are killed every year by some disease or government policy or widespread moral failing, and insists that drastic measures are justified to prevent those deaths, think about the 2.5 million Americans who die of other causes every year. If someone claims that a new law or policy is worthwhile "even if it saves only one child", consider whether resources might be better devoted to policies that save hundreds, thousands, or millions of children instead of just one.

I'm not suggesting that we do nothing to try to prevent deaths, or that we should not care when strangers die. If you can save one person's life, you have done more good than most people will ever do. I'm just suggesting that you remember the bigger picture.

With billions of people in the world, it will always be easy to find instances of evil people doing horrible things, and of innocent people dying in tragic circumstances. But remember, while around 150,000 people die every day, a larger number are born, and billions of people just go on living.

Your chances of making it through the day are pretty good.

Home Depot Two-Year Replacement Plan Doesn't

When I bought a Yard Machines lawn mower from Home Depot last year, I paid for a 2-year repair/replacement plan. I'm pretty sure the plan was presented to me with language like "If it stops working, you just bring it back and we'll replace it." I've had some bad luck with lawn equipment, and the price wasn't high, so it seemed like a good deal.

This year, the mower won't start. So I try to get Home Depot to repair or replace it. Home Depot's response is that the product is covered by a manufacturer's warranty, so I must get service from the manufacturer. The website helpfully tells me that I can contact the manufacturer by calling "$MFR_PHONE$". (That's verbatim.)

So Home Depot's repair/replacement plan was literally worthless. Lesson learned.

I contact the Yard Machines warranty service. They say that their warranty doesn't cover the engine. The engine is covered by the engine's manufacturer (Briggs & Stratton).

Yard Machines provides a warranty that doesn't cover the engine? Isn't a lawn mower just an engine attached to a blade and wheels? It's as if a warranty for a computer didn't cover any of the electronics.

So I go to the Briggs & Stratton website. It says I can get warranty service by an Authorized Briggs & Stratton Dealer in my area. I enter my zip code. Results: No dealers found.

And so now I have to wonder how many more hours I want to spend trying to get this thing fixed. Probably easier to either hire a lawn-mowing service, figure out how to fix it myself, or buy a new mower. But not from Home Depot.

To sum up, here are recent additions to my Shit List:

  • Home Depot
  • Yard Machines
  • Briggs & Stratton

Amazon Marketplace 5-Star Rating Extortion

I recently bought my wife a coat from an Amazon Marketplace seller. We are happy with the coat, but I was troubled when I saw this notice bundled with it:

Leave a 5-Star, Positive Review ~ Receive a Free One Year Warranty!*

Dear Valued Customer,

If you are COMPLETELY SATISFIED with this purchase, please RATE us 5 STARS and write a POSITIVE Customer Review on amazon.com within the next 7 days. This will activate your FREE ONE YEAR WARRANTY* and give you PRIORITY customer service.

[...]

*FREE ONE YEAR WARRANTY covers defects in material and workmanship. Merchandise may be returned for repair, replacement or store credit at company's sole discretion. To qualify for this warranty, customer must have left a 5-star rating and a positive customer review on amazon.com within 7 days of receipt of merchandise."

That's right: they offer a warranty that covers defects, but only if you help them sell their products to other unsuspecting customers. It's little wonder that they have an average 4.9-star rating.

This kind of gaming of rating and review systems really bugs me, so I contacted Amazon customer support. They told me that this is indeed a violation of their Marketplace policies, and that sellers who do this kind of thing can be banned from Amazon.

So, if you ever see something like this, go to http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/reports, select "Report a violation of our rules" and provide the details. Amazon will investigate and take appropriate action.

Also, leave the seller a one-star review. They deserve it.

"Takers"

There is one hot-button issue that will always draw me into a rant: the assertion that anyone who draws a paycheck from the government is a "taker" rather than a "maker".

My wife is a science teacher in a public school. She worked her way through college and obtained a Masters degree and a Ph.D. She could have taken a position in university academia, but decided she could do more good in a classroom with students.

She works in one of the wealthiest districts of one of the wealthiest counties in the state. She teaches the children of dentists, lawyers, and accountants who spend their weekends on the golf course complaining about being crushed by taxes and arguing about which model of BMW to buy this year.

She always works over 60 hours per week. She works harder than anyone I've ever seen in private industry.

Her pay has been cut by about 25% over the past five years. A big chunk of what income she has left goes toward buying supplies that the school system and parents won't provide.

She's a taker. She's a leech sucking society's blood. She should stop teaching science to children and go do something useful, right?

DirecTV Customer Service Sucks, and They Are Watching Me

This past weekend, two of our DirecTV satellite receivers failed. The failures were unrelated: one stopped working after the magic smoke leaked out of the vents; the other kept rebooting itself and scanning its disk, without ever actually starting up.

My wife called DirecTV and told them about the problems. The customer service rep agreed to send a replacement for the receiver that was smoking. However, we would have to let the other receiver keep trying to scan/repair its disk for 48 hours before they would declare it dead and replace it.

A couple of days went by, and we received a replacement receiver. We hooked it up and called DirecTV to activate it, and that went fine.

So far, I'd call this reasonable service. Then we asked about the other failed receiver, which was still not working after 48 hours, and that's when things changed.

From Couch Potato to Running a 10K in a Few Months

In August, I started running after a few years of sitting on the couch. I ran the Peachtree Road Race back in 2007, then stopped running completely shortly thereafter. My post-40 physical decline has been distressing, so I decided I needed to get back into doing something active.

Just as I started thinking "Maybe I should start running again," I ran across a mention of the Couch-to-5K running plan in a blog. The core idea is that the plan very gradually builds up your endurance. Too many people decide "I need to start running," then go out and run a couple of miles, and then wake up in pain the following morning and decide they will never run again. C25K starts you off alternating between 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking the first week, then 90 seconds of jogging and two minutes of walking the second week, then keeps bumping up the jogging time and reducing the walking time until you are running for 30 minutes straight.

The first couple of weeks of C25K seemed really easy, and I was tempted to skip forward a couple of weeks, but I'm glad I didn't. I think its gradual nature is the key to its success. Every other time I've gotten into running, I've had problems with pain in my right ankle, but that didn't happen this time.

There is an iPhone app that will tell you when to start running and when to start walking, so it appealed to both the geeky and lazy aspects of my personality.

I finished C25K in October, and was surprised at how easy it had been. So I decided to follow up with the 5K-to-10K program, which also has an iPhone app.

I expected going from 5K to 10K to be easier than going from 0 to 5K, but it wasn't. The first few weeks were easy, but once I got up to about five miles, it was tough to keep going. But I did it, and a few weeks ago I did my first 60-minute continuous run.

Unfortunately, this coincided with the holiday season, so while I lost 10 pounds between August and December, I put five pounds back on during December. I'll have to work on that.

Today, New Year's Day, I ran the 2013 PT Solutions Resolution Run 10K, organized by the Atlanta Track Club. It was 45 degrees and raining, so it wasn't pleasant, but I did finish, running the whole 6.2 miles except for brief walks at the water stations. My time was one hour and three minutes, which is not great, but I'm happy with it.

Next, on to the half marathon!

Apple Product Names

Correct: iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Mac, MacBook, Apple

Incorrect: IPOD, Iphone, I-Phone, IFone, i-PAD, EyePad, Ipadd, I-Toons, MAC, MAC Book, McIntosh, APPLE, AAPL

(Don't be an idiot. This isn't complicated.)

Job Title: Architect

What follows is from an actual job opportunity that was presented to me. It has been edited for brevity and to remove identifying information. I also cleaned up typos and broken grammar (recruiters apparently never read these things before sending them to candidates).

Job Title: Architect

Responsibilities:

  • Drive Solution Architectures for high performance and very highly scalable platforms.
  • Collaborate with key Telecommunication Architecture on definition of delivery of solution.
  • Participate in Joint Application Design/Requirements sessions
  • Create and present PowerPoints to leadership describing architectural approaches and solutions

Seeking Enterprise Architecture related type candidates. Not seeking a candidate with developer, project manager, or solution architect experience.

Skills & Experience Needed:

  • UML 2 3-5 years Required
  • Visio 5 years Required
  • MS Word 5 years Required
  • Agile Methodology Intermediate Desired
  • OAuth Intermediate Desired
  • Cloud computing Intermediate Desired

Note what is not required of an Architect: Any knowledge of how to actually produce working software. All you need to know is how to use Visio and PowerPoint.

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