The Northern Spy: Got your back up?
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The Northern Spy: Got your back up?

Got your back-up? The Spy has. Indeed, he is as much a back-up as a security paranoiac (refuses to connect to any network without interposing a firewall, for instance). He does not use the Documents folder on the boot partition.

Instead, his machines at work and at home each have a partition called "Files" where all working documents and email is stored (generally on a separate physical drive from the one with the boot partition). He carries about in his pocket a portable multi-interface drive, two of whose partitions are named FilesWork.bak and FilesHome.bak. The routine goes like this:

In the morning before leaving for the university, he backs up the Files partition at home to Files.bak. Upon reaching the ivory basement, he restores the latter to the Files partition on the machine there. When the day's work is done, he backs up to FilesWork.bak, and on reaching home, restores to the Files partition there.

A workable strategy? Yes, he rarely loses any files, though a couple of times items have become corrupt, this corruption has propagated, and he's had to restore a file from the automatic Time Machine backups done every hour at both ends independent of the above manual routine, and/or from the additional weekly backups done to a separately attached local drive (at each end, of course). Eight copies of everything? Are you nuts? Well, actually, he forgot to mention the quarterly backups of current writing projects to CD or DVD, and less frequent backups to a remote server. He's not lost more than one day's work (and that only twice) in two decades.

What he does not do is rely on the backup system provided by the university, by Apple through its services, or via any network or cloud facility other than within his own firewall. (A mix of security and backup concerns there.)

All this of course depends heavily on having reliable backup software--a utility that works one hundred percent correctly one hundred percent of the time. (Aside: in one of his stories, the social context employs base six, so instead of percentages uses persixties. Their backups are as essential as are those of the Spy's files in which they live out their fictional lives.)

Besides reliability, he wants the software to do incremental backups. After all, he has some 30 000 text files accumulated, some running to the multimegabyte range, and doesn't want the entire 4G backed up every time. (Pictures are elsewhere, BTW.) Moreover, he wants non-encrypted backups that can simply be mounted read by the finder. Finally, he prefers a universal app, because one of his machines is Intel, the other a G5 quad.

In the old OS 9 days, he got into using the Dantz backup software--very reliable, very easy to use. Naturally he eventually moved to their Retrospect under OS X, and has employed it, driven by a couple of scripts, for lo these six or more years. Indeed, speaking of the number six, he had stalled out on upgrades at version 6.1.230 for some time, preferring to follow the maxim "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", rather than "upgrade everything soonest to the latest and greatest."

But Retrospect 6 became broken, or at least annoying for some obscure reason that the Spy suspects had to do with permissions and ownership not being entirely in sync between home and work, and/or new considerations operating under the hood under 10.5.8 (recall he does not use 10.6 yet because Excel 2004 does not work there, and he needs it to run megabytes of macros that don't work in later Excels).

First, difficulties copying .DSStore files arose. Retrospect would complain that the copy could not be verified and cite from one to forty of these files as the culprits. Second, even though he was only modifying an average of three hundred files a day, Retrospect insisted on backing up about 1300-1400 at each session. Immediately doing the backup a second time might cut it to 1100 or so (most of the day's work not copying on the second pass), but there was no way to get it much below that, and the number seemed to grow slowly but steadily. Attending to the consistency of permission, ownership, etc at the OS level made no difference. Neither did erasing the backup partitions and creating a clean copy. Close attention to the process revealed that the same files, some quite large, and none recently modified, were being copied at every session. Since the Spy didn't want to wear out their bits, it was obviously time to try something new.

His first crack at a replacement was the shareware Carbon Copy Cloner from Bombich Software. This program's advertised intention is to clone a drive--usually one uses it to copy a boot drive for installation purposes. When it first was available, some backup programs didn't properly copy ownership and permissions, meaning that an alleged copy of a boot partition might not in fact boot, and if it did, the user files would be, well, unusable. CCC was the solution to this problem, and the Spy has both used it and recommends it for its stated purpose.

However, though CCC does do plain and incremental copies, it proceeds by renaming the target disk to SourceDisk.bak, makes the copy, then renames the target back to what it was before. There is probably a reason for this, but the only sign of a failed backup (and they do happen about one time in ten with CCC) is a target with the wrong name. Fail to notice, and you arrive at work with a bad backup. Not nice. However, as long as you check the name of the target disk when the clone job is finished, and it seems correct, CCC is a good program for the job--it just isn't very convenient for regular, routine backups.

So, he bit the biscuit and paid the upgrade fee to EMC for what is now called Roxio Retrospect, and has reached version eight (seven if you are on W*nd*ws).

This new version has a much more complex (busier) multi-paned interface than version six, and many more options than its older sister. One can do a backup, and later locate that task recorded under the Scripts sub-window, then repeat it any number of times on subsequent occasions. This is good, one supposes, but the success or failure of the last run script can only be determined by moving to and checking the activity sub window. Overall, this makes the new version harder to use, not easier. Moreover, it quickly became evident that version eight was no faster than version six, and that its algorithm for deciding what it needed to copy was unchanged. It still insisted on moving a minimum of 1100 files every time, even though they had not been modified.

In the middle of this rather disappointing test, the Spy was contacted by Richard Krueger of Siber Systems. Would the Spy be interested in testing for review the backup program GoodSync, newly released for the Mac? Well. Talk about timing. So, he accepted a copy and key to run it, and thank very much for the opportunity.

GoodSync does manual incremental backups (the only kind thoroughly tested; it can also do timed automatic ones) in two phases--first one clicks "Analyze", then, after viewing the resulting analysis of the differences between source and target, clicks "Sync". Note that this latter can be set as either one way or two way synchronization (see the program's name), and the analysis panel will show which way the copying has to be done (file-by-file) to achieve equality between the two folders (partitions in his case).

First impressions were a little sketchy. It was hard to tell from the panes which was the source and which the destination for a one-way sync, especially since the help file seemed to have it backward. However, the green arrows beside the files that were not equal settled this issue, as they all pointed the same way. Second, although the program appeared to work the first few times, it also had a residual 300 files that it also felt the need to copy on every session. Third, after a few sessions, it stopped working properly--stating that there were failures to make copies of some 60 files, but with no hint as to why. Initially, the only fix for the latter problem was to do a Retrospect backup, then a GoodSync backup. Between the two everything got copied. Boo. Fourth, the PowerPC is not supported, though that information was not at all obvious on the company's web site. (The Spy eventually found it in the fine print on one page, but only after scouring the site several times.)

But after a time, all was resolved. The first difficulty was just a matter of getting used to the display panes, which are less busy than those of Retrospect 8's, and in the end easier to understand, even if a little off-putting to a beginner. The second was resolved by GoodSync's own analysis displays. It turned out that the files causing the difficulties all fit into the category of cache, finder/spotlight information, or trash. Disabling copying on these folders solved the redundant copying problem for good. On the third issue, passing the difficulty on to Richard Krueger (good first name, that) resulted in him producing a new version that fixed the problem. So Good Sync works, copies all that's needed, and does what he wants (it also does more, but those other functions were only lightly tested. No other bugs surfaced on the run-throughs of other program functionality, though. On the fourth item, well, you can't have everything. Krueger said he would modify the website to make more obvious the information that the program was Intel-only .

So, what's the bottom line? The Spy cannot recommend CCC for routine backups, just for the original purpose of making a clone of a boot partition. Check the result before you use it. But it is shareware. If it doesn't do what you want, chuck it and don't pay.

Retrospect 8 is now his default program on the PowerPC, but definitely came in second in the comparison, for its interface, its speed, and its inability to provide either sufficient information or the means to solve the redundant copying problem.

GoodSync, despite having two phases, is fast--considerably faster than Retrospect--largely because it does not close every file on the disk after doing its analysis and copy. Moreover, both the analysis and the actual copy/sync after the analysis is finished are among the fastest he has ever seen, much faster than Restrospect. GoodSync also provides more useful information about the reasons why some things are not going to copy (though the Spy could use more detail). If the code were universal, he'd use it all the time. Indeedhen the time comes to replace the PowerPC G5 quad tower with one of the new 8+core Intel desktops rumoured about to be announced, he will switch entirely to GoodSync. If it works the same way on a PC, our reader should use it there, too. Highly recommended.

Another quarter, another $15.7B

Apple recently announced third quarter results that exceeded all analysts' expectation, some by more than $1B. This represented a 78% increase in net income, and record sales in all categories except for iPods, which declined somewhat on dramatic early movements of the iPad and iPhone 4. Guidance for the next quarter suggests $18B, but this is obviously a lowball estimate, and analysts are already forecasting a higher figure. The Spy will go out on a limb and suggest $19B+.

An even bigger shocker to the Spy was the $16.07B revenue figure posted by MS a few days later, exceeding his estimates by some $700M, and keeping the revenue gap in Redmond's favour for one more quarter. (The originally submitted version of this month's column confidently pegged the gap the other way by $400M.) However, the Spy sticks to his long term view and projections. MS used to be important, but has since lost touch with its customers, is out of ideas, and is headed for decline. Expect the revenue gap to reverse, then, barring any missteps, to grow in Apple's favour by several billion, even to see the Apple profit figure (a larger gap because the business models are not comparable, one being both hardware and software) surpass that of MS within three quarters at the most.

There are at this point no indicators to suggest a relative reversal in the two companies' trajectories in the foreseeable future. Look out MS; a cusp is coming. Look out MS senior executives. Your board cannot tolerate the lack of leadership much longer. But, the current growth at MS may say less about the company itself and more about the strength of the U.S. economy as a whole, thus bode well for the immediate prospects of the Dow and TSE.

As noted here last month, the antenna problems of the iPhone are relatively minor, and easily fixed. Oh, the misstep may cost Apple a few hundred million, but the mindshare cost will be negligible, particularly if, as suggested in the quarterly report, there are new product intros coming soon to make people forget. Expect a free fix, and a rev of the model, likely with a non-conductive plastic coating added.

Has anybody else noticed a decline in the relative amount of spam this last year? Some twelve months ago, more than 80% of the mail arriving at the WebNameHost server was tagged as "High Spam" and rejected without being passed to customers' accounts. Another 15% was tagged "Low Spam" and passed on, but almost all of that was indeed spam. For the Spy's own numerous mail accounts, more than 75% of what did make it past the server filters was tossed into junk mail by Eudora's filters. Thus, of some 3000 "messages" presented for him to the server, he actually read about 150, and a good half of those were spam, too.

Today, the server is rejecting just over a third of the mail, Eudora half the rest. The proportion of spam in what makes it to his eyeballs is still about half. Much better, but not good enough. The Spy would like to see heavy fines levied on junk e-mail, say $1 per unsolicited message sent to persons with no prior business or personal relationship. This would not affect low-volume legitimate enquiries, but would eliminate the high volume spammers. Further, in his opinion, purloining data bases to acquire addresses, refusing to remove an addressee from a list when requested, or sending any kind of abusive, harassing, or threatening mail, should all be criminalized, as they have indeed been in some jurisdictions.

Sorry fella, but my right to refuse listening to your bullying rant, your hate, your scam, your fraudulent rich quick scheme, or your pitch for shoddy or counterfeit goods, always trumps your imagined right to abuse free speech in order to make you feel good or to line your pocket at my expense. What if your criticism is correct or your product is worthwhile? Pressing it on me unsolicited is gauche, should be illegal, and guarantees I will not agree/buy. If you can't get a life, you ought to be sentenced to one.

It's goodbye to MacCompanion this month, as it ceases publication, and has its archives folded in to the AppleCentral and other sites run by Xplain Corporation. The Spy has enjoyed his few years' association with MacCompanion, and regrets it's demise. The publication will be missed. He looks forward to adding XPlain and one or more of its various publications to the list of those syndicating the column and/or its headlines. After all, he has every issue of MacTech magazine (and its predecessor) ever published. Links to come next month.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor and chair of Computing Science and Mathematics as well as Senate Chair at Trinity Western University. He is also on the board of CIRA, operator of .ca. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers (paper and online), and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to Participate and you could win free web hosting from the subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Amazon's Booksurge.

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