The Northern Spy: Back Up To The Old Tricks
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The Northern Spy: Back Up To The Old Tricks

By Rick Sutcliffe

Much has happened worth commenting upon in the months that this space has been devoted to explicating some of the features of Modula-2 R10 that make it safe, reliable, and extensible as a problem solving tool. For one thing, a few errors were noted in the June article. R10 uses NOT, but ~ is not a synonym, [DESCENDING] was removed for FOR loops and replaced by FOR selector--, and two escape sequences for strings were omitted due to a misunderstanding. Fixed.

Meanwhile, amidst a new Federal election and accompanying rhetoric, Apple released the iPhone 6s and 6s+ to great anticipation, and wicked-fast sales amounting to thirteen million units in the first weekend. The Spy suspects many of these users are either upgrading old iPhones (pre-6) or switching from other platforms they have come to realize are inconsistent or inadequate for their needs.

Oh, there are some fair enough phones for the budget conscious without extensive needs on other platforms, and for some those will indeed be the appliance of choice. But the iPhone has a cool factor, a consistency, an extensibility, and a reliability that can't always be taken for granted a price.

Since the Spy sprang for an iPhone 6+ a year ago, he has no incentive to upgrade. Perhaps he will when the iPhone 9 comes out. At the present level of incremental improvements, it will take several years yet to achieve the functionality of the PIEA (Personal Intelligence Enhancement Appliance) that has been an everyday fixture in his alternate history science fiction for well over a decade. Someday reality will catch up to fiction.

The Spy takes passing note, however, of Blackberry issuing an Android phone. This seems to him like hitching their fading star to the wrong OS, but control is the operating word, and they wouldn't have much if they simply created apps for others' hardware. Time will tell, but the Spy still thinks the shine is off Blackberry, and it'll be tough to avoid demise.

Cheaters never prosper is an old schoolyard mantra. The Spy recalls the early days of commercial microcomputers, with multiple languages and their compiler tools competing for creating program solutions. It became common to benchmark these with programs like the Sieve of Eratosthenes, and later Whetstone and Dhrystone, in an attempt to determine the "best" compiler. Of course, one could never have "all things equal" because underlying hardware, innate language efficiency, and the compiler's own code were all factors.

To isolate one, it was necessary to fix the others statically--not always easy. Moreover, code might run fast at the expense of occupying a great deal of space--a no-no in the days of 64K (later 640K) memory limitations, but little attended to today. In its early implementations, C++ never did well on such comparisons because both the language (and therefore the compiler) and the code it produced were bloated.

Because compiler manufacturers were aware of these standardized tests, it was possible to detect when they were being run. Sure enough, we soon found compilers employing detection routines, then quickly producing and deploying hand-crafted and heavily optimized code to run the standard tests, even though they were dog slow at everything else. A big scandal at the time.

The more things change the more they change the same. Perhaps the Babylonians and Egyptians had pyramid schemes and con-men working the dropped wallet, swampy real estate, and fake inheritance scams.

So, fast forward to 2015, and Volkswagen cheating on emission tests by detecting when they were running and altering the combustion mechanics to lower emissions for the duration, then returning them to forty times the permitted levels once tests were over. This cheat on spot tests, combined with the ability to submit its own doctored figures to testing agencies, enabled them to get away with the scam for years, all the while touting the superiority of the affected engines over others. Hey, who hasn't known people that invent stories to make themselves look good while savaging others?

Now that the inevitable "gotcha" has happened, the whole company is in jeopardy, and it remains to be seen whether V-W has enough money to fix all the affected cars, and pay the tens of billions in fines and reparations (to dealers and customers). After all, who would buy one of the affected cars now?


The Spy has mentioned many times here his paranoia over backup. At day's end, he backs up from his (portable) work machine to a volume on a portable drive, which he restores to his (desktop) home machine. After the early morning work is done, he reverses the procedure, but uses a different volume.

At both locations Carbon Copy Cloner is making hourly, weekly, and monthly backups to a local fusion drive, and Time Machine is busy at backing up to an old Power PC Mac desktop tower whose only function is to hold disk drives, and at home to a Synology NAS trained to be a Time Machine receptacle. In addition, the portable Mac comes home on the weekend, and there makes additional backups of its own to the NAS and a local drive. Separate detached portable drives reside in each location for occasional backups, and files are periodically dumped to a remote Linux server in a different country.

No, of course it isn't foolproof. Anyone having the temerity to use that word has sadly underestimated the ingenuity of fools, and/or the absent-mindedness of professors. But the Spy doesn't lose data very often. Indeed, a little incident earlier this year affecting a few hours' work was the first in several years, and was the impetus to add the CCC backups to the mix.

In particular, his NAS-cum-timemachine these last few years has been a Synology Disk Station 211+ with double two terabyte Hitachi drives running as a Synology hybrid RAID, which in 2-disk installs isn't materially different from RAID-1, so provides redundant storage for 2T. This rig took the place of his Apple Time machine/Router, which collapsed of heat exhaustion a few days after its warrantee likewise succumbed to grizzly death. The NAS also backs up two other machines in the house, and serves photos for TV viewing.

The rig has worked perfectly for four years, but Time Machine recently announced the volume was full, and it would have to start deleting older backups. Then it began refusing backups altogether.

Two choices: either replace the 2T with 3T drives (the maximum for this unit) one at a time, allowing for the contents to be re-redundanced for each, then expand the volume to accommodate the new capacity, or introduce a new NAS with more bays and larger drives to start with.

Paranoia struck again. Was it worth replacing drives in a four-year-old unit to get a 50% capacity increase, then have to scrap both unit and new drives when either it failed, or the new disks reached their capacity? The Spy decided not, and researched the field. Emboldened by the sterling performance of what he already had, he finally chose the Synology brand over Seagate, rejecting others on the basis of price, reviews, or newcome status, and because he was already familiar with the Snyology OS, and thought it sufficient for his purposes.

Which model? The new ones can take 8T drives, so the 215+ would yield a maximum of 8T in the same configuration, a 4-fold increase--provided he could buy 8T drives for less than a king's ransom. After all, thought he, the "I" in RAID is for "inexpensive." The four-bay 415play and 415+ could take the same drives, and offer double the capacity, but with, say, the cheaper 4T drives, still only 8T. Besides, the Spy had just bought a Seagate Baraccuda 3T drive cheap at a store going out of business, and wanted to use it. He considered the 1515+ with its five bays, but that configuration seemed optimized for RAID-5, which he didn't want to use. Besides, if his backups alone took 2T, a five-to-seven-fold increas in space was indicated.

So, he sprang for the top of the non-racked Synology line and settled on the eight-bay 1815+. Best price in Canada was through B&H photo, which was prepared to sell and ship free to Canada for under $1280CDN. The NCIX chain offers to price match, but because it was a U.S. site, would not in this case, though they offered a compromise at $1309CDN, which the Spy took for the convenience of a local supplier with a known top reputation. He also bought from them (on various weekly specials) a matching Seagate Baraccuda 3T, a pair of 3T Toshiba (Hitachi) drives, and a pair of 4T Western Digital Reds, leaving two bays open. Again, why? Why not six identical drives, for instance?

Paranoia again. Buying in matched pairs is always a good idea for a RAID, even if not required for Synology's hybrid. But, to put all six eggs in one basket is not his way. If one fails, the pair gets replaced (one at a time of course). This way, he can evaluate the three leading brands. And, with extra capacity, upgrading a pair is not the only expansion option.


The unit arrived well packed, suspended in a foam harness nestled in two layers of box. Power cord, two Ethernet cables (for data aggregation using two of the four ports), and bay keys were in a separate (interior) box. The only instructions were pictorial, and showed only how to unpack, set up, install drives, connect to a computer, turn it on, and browse to the unit, the modern assumption being either that any idiot can find the manual on line, or that if you need the manual for setup you shouldn't be buying a unit like this.

Initial setup was almost as easy as the diagrams claimed. The Spy already had a copy of Synology Assistant, for locating such boxes on the local net and switching to an appropriate browser window, so fired that up. At first it couldn't find the 1815+, but when the ethernet cable was plugged directly into the router instead of the thunderbolt hub, all became copacetic. Tell the box to set up using all six installed drives, order them into one volume, install utilities using the package manager and control panel, wait a while, then watch the drive lights flash for twenty-four hours until parity checking in the background concludes.

The Synology hybrid RAID, by the way, delivered just over 14.4T of redundant one-disk failure proof storage from the nominal 20T of drive space. For a first application, run through the steps to tell the box it can act as a Time Machine with appropriate credentials, and begin a first backup, which is still underway at this writing.

To this point in the adventure all is well. More next time as additional utilities and functionality are brought on line, but thus far, the Spy is inclined to give manufacturer Synology high marks for well-thought out hardware. His already high opinion of NCIX went up a notch. Super service, quick delivery even though the product came from the warehouse rather than store stock, and in this case (though not always) excellent prices.

--The Northern Spy

Opinions expressed here are entirely the author's own, and no endorsement is implied by any community or organization to which he may be attached. Rick Sutcliffe, (a. k. a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Canada's Trinity Western University. He has been involved as a member or consultant with the boards of several community and organizations, and participated in developing industry standards at the national and international level. He is a co-author of the Modula-2 programming language R10 dialect. He is a long time technology author and has written two textbooks and nine alternate history SF 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 ArjayBB. com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost. net 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.

URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Arjay Enterprises:

The Northern Spy Home Page: http: //www. TheNorthernSpy. com
opundo : http: //opundo. com
Sheaves Christian Resources : http: //sheaves. org
WebNameHost : http: //www. WebNameHost. net
WebNameSource : http: //www. WebNameSource. net
nameman : http: //nameman. net

General URLs for Rick Sutcliffe's Books:

Author Site: http: //www. arjay. ca
Publisher's Site: http: //www. writers-exchange. com/Richard-Sutcliffe. html
The Fourth Civilization--Ethics, Society, and Technology (4th 2003 ed. ): http: //www. arjay. bc. ca/EthTech/Text/index. html

Sites for Modula-2 resources
Modula-2 FAQ and ISO-based introductory text:
R10 Repository and source code:

URLs for resources mentioned in this column


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