Author Archives: Geof F. Morris

How I Backup My Macs: December 2013

Oh no, not this shit again.


  1. Backups have saved my bacon yet again.
  2. I have something new in the system.
  3. You got new stuff for Christmas, and now is the time to start backing it up so you can quit worrying about it.
  4. A pretty young woman and I had a conversation about this at the Apple Store earlier today, and she wanted to know more about it. This is published because of that conversation; I’ve been hacking away at it for a while now.

So hi, nice young lady whose name I didn’t get!  I feel like an idiot right now.

Let me get a little bit of this out of the way: I have written about backups in 2009 and 2011.  In the first one, I talk about a belt-and-suspenders approach; in the second, I talk about belt-and-suspenders supported by close air support.  Now I have belt, suspenders, close air support, and Navy SEALs.  Or something — I don’t know, I’m an Air Force brat, and we don’t know crap about the real military.  [Sorry, Dad.]

I have also written about backups saving by bacon many times.  There’s the time in 2011 when my 24″ iMac needed a new logic board and I needed to be getting ready to start a new job.  There’s the time this past October when my 27″ iMac started doing Bad Things(TM) and had volumes failing; the resolution for that one comes today that 1) my Time Machine volume was just fine after all and 2) Repair Disk worked on the boot volume when booted into Recovery Mode (Cmd-R during start, if you don’t know.  And then there’s the time this December I had to format my MacBook Air’s boot volume from my booted clone.  All three of these problems would’ve wiped me out for quite some time, and there was a significant risk of data loss to my original data.  Did I lose data?  Nope.

Oh, and then there was the time that I was sitting in the floor of my downstairs bathroom on April 27th, 2011.  With tornadoes all around me, I said aloud, “Hey, at least my data is in a data center far from Huntsville.”  All of my data would be safe: photos, music, you have it.  I could rebuild my computers from the last known safe state.  It would’ve worked: the cavalry would’ve come over the hill.

So, back up your shit.  Here’s how.

I use what’s called a 4-2-2 system: 4 copies of my data, 2 of which are local, 2 of which are offsite.

  1. SuperDuper!The first local copy is a cloned backup of my boot volume via Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper!  This gets me something that I can boot from at any time.  This was prominently featured in 2011 and December 2013.
  2. Look at all those classes that I've taken in the last six semesters!

    Look at all those classes that I’ve taken in the last six semesters!

    The second local copy is Time Machine.  I’ve written before that Time Machine Just Works, but that’s really not true.  Time Machine has lots of problems, and I wouldn’t trust it by itself.  But for A) a second local copy that I don’t have to be primarily reliant upon and B) the value that it provides in being incremental backup for file retrieval, etc., it has value.
  3. CrashPlanOne of the offsite copies is with CrashPlan+.  CrashPlan has an article on 3-2-1 systems and how CrashPlan can be a part of that.  I have been using this since 2011, and it very nearly saved my bacon when lightning struck my house.  I’m very thankful that my uninterruptible power supplies were able to handle the surge.  This would’ve also been handy during the April 27th outbreak.
  4. ArqI’ve added Amazon Glacier-powered backups that are managed by Arq.  The Haystack Software team has a fun blog post about coming up with a good backup strategy, and I suggest that you read it in addition to what I have presented here.  Why Amazon Glacier?  CrashPlan is definitely aimed at the consumer market and is priced and provisioned accordingly.  Amazon Glacier is professional grade.  Also, I trust two providers over one provider.

Seeding an online backup with either one of those services is going to take a long time.  Backing up 28GB off of my Macbook Air took the better part of a week.  It took a couple of weeks for the main boot volume on my iMac to seed, and I was uploading the first (of three) Drobo volumes when my iMac started thrashing around on the floor like an angry toddler.

Since I mentioned the Air, I want to make a point: I use Time Machine (to a Time Capsule on my network, a replacement for one that got zapped a while back) for incremental backups as well as CrashPlan and now Arq.  For some time, I said that I didn’t need cloned backup of the Air.  For one, it’s a problem on my end, because I would have to dock a hard drive1 to make it work.  SuperDuper! will backup-on-mount, meaning that it will work … when I remember to connect the drive.  I am the weak link there, because I forget to back up even though I know that I should.  However, I have a reminder in my GTD setup2 that gets me a record of when I’ve last backed up as well as a nudge to do so. I’ve generally stayed current, but not always.

So what do I recommend?

  1. First off, I recommend all four backup solutions. The two local backup solutions have different features and restoration times; the two offline backup solutions are both good, and I’ll leave it to you to pick. But I really do recommend having one local and one offsite at a minimum, and if you’re going to pick three, have both local copies. Restoring from an online backup is very time-intensive, especially if you live in a bandwidth backwater like North Alabama.3
  2. I recognize that not everyone had the resources that I had to bring to bear when I got started with this.  I recommend a cloned drive that is automated or well-maintained (but preferably the former).  You do not want to be thinking the following when you have a computer emergency: “So when was the last time that I backed up to this drive?”
  3. For desktops, you have no excuse to not have a clone attached at all times.  For laptops, you do, but consider this as well: don’t carry your clone with you everywhere.  Leave it at home.  A solid scenario for using that clone is, “Someone stole my laptop and I need to get back up and running with this replacement laptop paid for with insurance money!”  Do you feel smarter?  You should.
  4. If you have just two backups, I recommend a clone over Time Machine.  TM is convenient but can be flaky.  If I’m concerned with backup first, I’m going offsite.  Also, if you’re going to have just two copies of your data, one of them should be off-site.
  5. I recommend CrashPlan over Glacier, because most of you aren’t going to need/want something in Glacier’s sphere.  Those who do were probably criticizing me for this choice, but they probably weren’t reading this in the first place other than purely to criticize me.  Quit trying to be John Siracusa.  You are probably not John Siracusa; if you are, John, this is crazy: here’s my number4, call me maybe?

I’ve got the comment box below for comments. I’ll also be posting this to Facebook and Twitter per uzhe, so if you comment there, I’ll see it, too. You can also email me at, and John, my number is in that footnote.5

  1. I have a spare on the floor in my office waiting for this to happen.  It’s been there for a few months. []
  2. I will write about that at some point, I promise. []
  3. Seriously, we put men on the moon and then get treated like this? “Come on!” —GOB []
  4. 256-527-8152 []
  5. Seriously, my number is so easy to find. []

No Really, Be Serious About Backups

So, remember when my stuff started falling apart in October, and when I exhorted you to be serious about backups?  I had some SSL problems, so I’m late in telling you this one, but backups saved my bacon on my MacBook Air.

He got them fixed, but right now I’m freaking out.  I have Repair Disk running on my Time Capsule right now, and after that finishes overnight, I’ll run it on the external HDD to which I’ve been cloning my Air.  I pretty much have to have the Air running right now, because it’s my only computer and finals start the 2nd.

So, about that worry on filesystems: it turns out that the filesystem on my Air’s internal storage was crap.  You’ll see in that quote above that I had problems with Time Capsule; I didn’t worry about those as much as I worried about my external clone.  That didn’t have damage, but my internal storage did.  I booted to the clone and ran Repair Disk, which you can’t run on your boot drive while it’s running.

It was unable to repair the disk.

I had to FORMAT MY INTERNAL STORAGE and then clone from my clone.

I still get anxious just thinking about it.  It worked, though.  I didn’t lose any files, and once I’d restarted the machine with the freshly-cloned internal storage, things were just fine.  I haven’t had a single problem with it since.  For those who may wonder, was I seeing problems with the un-repaired filesystem?  It’s hard to say, although it would do stupid things every once in a while.  But staying with the filesystem in a known-bad state was a risk that I was not willing to take.  Once I knew that there was a problem, I had to fix it.

Your filesystem’s job is to know where the data is on your disk.  Just as it is important to back up your data, it’s also important to know that your computer knows where it is, for two reasons: 1) you need to be able to access the data and 2) you need to be able to back up that data.  If your filesystem stops doing its job flawlessly, you are on the road to being screwed.

Here are my next steps with this Air:

  1. I’m still backing it up by cloning, Time Machine, CrashPlan, and Arq/Amazon Glacier.
  2. I have a reminder in Sciral Consistency — I need to talk about my life-management solutions at some point — to make the clone every so often (3-5 days).
  3. I have a reminder in Sciral Consistency to boot from the clone every so often (4-6 weeks).
  4. I have a reminder in Sciral Consistency to run Repair Disk on all volumes associated with this computer (6-8 weeks).

Remember: because my iMac was down, I was left with this as my only machine.  When it started having problems, I was in a panic.  But when you have backups, it’s not a panic that overwhelms you.

Be Serious About Backups

Remember when I wrote in 2011 about how I back up my Macs?  Remember how that was an update on my backup setup from 2009, which added off-site backup?  Remember how that was influenced by John Siracusa on Hypercritical?

Well, I started backing up to Amazon’s AWS Glacier a few months ago using Arq, which leaves me with a 4-2-2 setup: four copies, two local, two off-site.  I’ve been happy with it.  Now I may really need it, because:

  1. My nightly clone HDD failed.  I think this is because the drive died, but based on newer information, I think it’s the filesystem that’s shot.
  2. I was slow in getting my replacement clone in place.  [Note to self: you need a ready spare.]
  3. The HDD in my iMac started showing problems, given that it just cut off one day.
  4. Booting into Recovery mode got me to where I could run the computer, at which point I tried to copy files on over to one of my Drobo volumes.
  5. The boot died before that finished.
  6. Oh, by the way: the Time Machine drive won’t mount.  Yep, my primary and secondary backups (as much as Time Machine is a backup, which it only sorta is) appear to be dead.

None of the three suspect drives is making thrashing sounds, so I’m pretty sure that the filesystem is corrupted.  I get this from Accidental Tech Podcast #40, where John Siracusa — him again — mentions that his wife’s Mac had filesystem errors that he noted because he was proactive about running Repair Disk.  He got them fixed, but right now I’m freaking out.  I have Repair Disk running on my Time Capsule right now, and after that finishes overnight, I’ll run it on the external HDD to which I’ve been cloning my Air.  I pretty much have to have the Air running right now, because it’s my only computer and finals start the 2nd.

I’m headed to the Genius Bar on Sunday to check out my iMac and hopefully get it running.  I’ll then probably have to reinstall everything and erase that Time Machine drive, which is probably corrupted beyond repair.  How will I get the data back onto the iMac?  Online backup, y’all.  Thankfully there’s nothing mission-critical in ~/Documents that can’t wait for an online restoration.  I will selectively restore because, again, I think the filesystem is hosed.

Le sigh.  Off-site backups are going to end up saving my bacon.

Father’s Day, Pt. 34

Two Father’s Day things, since these are de rigueur:

I talked to Dad today about things that are going on at work.  He offered me advice.  At the end of it, he said, “You’ve probably thought of most of that already, but if you hadn’t, now you have.”  It wasn’t anything that he thrust upon me or would be angry if I didn’t accept it.  He was just thinking out loud, and they were good ideas.  I accept all of his advice save his politics.  ;)

Driving to the dorms just now, I was stopped at a light on the square in Fairfax and saw the car next to me doing that thing that stick-drivers do in edging up and rolling back in anticipation of the light turning green.  I used to do that, but I don’t anymore because it’s rough on the clutch, and since I’ve burned one out in the WRX already, I’m of no mind to do that again anytime in the next 60,000 miles.

But that brought back a memory from high school.  The first car I drove that was “my” car was a terrible 1982 Dodge Aries K car, tan with a white vinyl top that had cracked and mildewed, and with a bad seal around the rear windscreen, so the back seat was also mildewed.  It was not, as Steven Page put it, “a nice Reliant automobile”.  So my parents decided to get me something better, which put me into a blue 1986 Nissan hardbody pickup with a white camper shell on it.  That proved to be perfect for moving into and away from MSMS both years.

But to get to the point where I could drive it full-time — remember, the car that I got at 15 was an automatic — I had to learn how to drive a stick.  I ground gears and killed engines with the best of them, but eventually I figured it out.  EXCEPT FOR HILL STARTS.  Those took me some time to get the hang of.

The worst incident came when we were driving from Forest into Morton to do hunter’s safety courses so I could get licensed.  (I’ve never killed a thing.)  We’d driven in on US 80 — we lived right on it next to the Catholic church — and there was a light at the bottom of a hill.  Coming up to it, I was dreading getting stopped at the light, but it happened.  I was the front car in line.

I killed it maybe 15 times.

We went through the whole light cycle.

This was the main drag, and that was a long, long light.

Somehow I got it right very quickly on the second light cycle, but I have never forgotten that.  Why?  Well, for one, there’s a lot of shame in that, but also, Dad was so cool through it.  I know that he was frustrated.  He was almost as frustrated as I was.  But he kept it in check.

I inherited Dad’s temper.  [Cut to my mother nodding her head vigorously.]  But I see it from him only when necessary.  I think that he’s modeled that pretty well.  Back at TBE, I had a co-worker comment on my temperament in meetings — never too high, never too low, always rolling with the punches.  What she didn’t know is that I let all that pent up frustration free in my office, as closer co-workers of mine know well.  I’m sure that Dad has that steam valve, too.  That’s probably why I don’t get an earful nearly as often as I deserve.

So: advice, how to drive a stick, and keeping my anger in check.  Those are three good things.

My MITRE Internship

After a string of temp jobs, I actually have landed something in my field!  Be still my beating heart.

Come Monday, June 3rd, I will be an intern at MITRE‘s Center for Connected Government for eight weeks in McLean, Virginia.  So off I go to the land of the Beltway Bandits!

How did I land this?  I was looking at MITRE’s career site for jobs here in Huntsville, saw the internship tab, and decided to give it a shot.  In my best of minds, I was hoping that something would have opened up around here in the meantime, as this was November.  I’ve had a temp job in the interim, along with going to graduate school, but this was the first thing that was really great for a while.  So I’ll get two months up there, it’ll be fun, and it’ll be educational because of what I’ll be doing.  Here are the job descriptions that they threw at me:

  • As a member of MITRE’s Program Management team, you support the Project Management Framework (PMX) PM Architecture and Roadmap Validation initiative by conducting the project reviews which includes preparation of a survey instrument (supported by MITRE SMEs).  This includes defining criteria for identifying current projects for Project Reviews, supporting identification of the projects for review, conducting Current Project Reviews and assessment of results, compilation of the Current Project Review Report, and conduct Lessons Learned and revise PMX products based on Lessons Learned.   This information will be used for the PMX Pilot is the next step in the goal of providing a visual representation of the domains and concepts of management in a modern government organization and the minimum set of interacting processes needed to support it.
  • As a member of MITRE’s Program Management team, you will review commercially-available project leader training and identify the terminal learning objectives. You will work with a pilot group of aspiring project leaders, review their self-assessments against the organization’s competency model, and craft individual development plans at a learning objective level.  You will prepare and deliver a briefing to the Division leadership. The aggregate effect is to raise the project leadership maturity of an organization.

MITRE is very evidence-driven, and as an engineer, I really appreciate that.  I’m going to split my time between those two job descriptions as well as be run through some of their training.  This dovetails very well with my grad school curriculum and, for better, the things that I care about in our field.  It’s a chance to flex some muscles, have some fun, and get paid a little bit.

I’ll be living at George Mason University for the summer, so any of you who live in the area from MSMS, UAH, or other parts of my life have me at your disposal when I’m not working my rear end off, which I expect will be most of the time.

Dear Alisa

It’s been just under three months from that first oh-no-is-that? moment until today.  I don’t pretend to know what that feels like for you and Jason and all of the other people that love you, of which there are many, as I know that you know.  You’ve known that this was coming for a while, and I personally like the curly, I get why you’ll stick with the scarf.  So since today was the day, it’s time to follow through on my end of my assertion.

Photo on 5-4-13 at 9.00 PMPhoto on 5-4-13 at 9.09 PM

I’ll grow it back out when you’re growing back yours. If I could do more to support you in a helpful way, I totally would.


Alisa and I have been a part of the same community for over a decade now.  Anytime a group of people have been together for that long, there are underlying grumbles around, well, most everybody.  I just never hear that about Alisa.  I haven’t met anyone yet that has met her and doesn’t at least like her; most everyone that I know loves her, as I do.

So if you know someone struggling with cancer, just love them the best way that you know how: making dinner for them, taking out the trash, picking up their mail, bringing them a latté, reading in the same room with them for an hour, just whatever.  She’s two states away, but this is something that I can do from here other than send the late-night emails when I can’t sleep and send her crazy emails.

I’ll think of her every (third) morning when I am shaving at a minimum.


I love you, dear.  Keep kicking ass.


Six Years Later, LOLTrek Still Amuses Me

About this time six years ago, I got a matter-of-fact email from Stephen:

Ten minutes ago, I posted a lolcat version of The Trouble With
Just now, I got a link from boingboing.


My only response was: “I’m doubling your [hosting] fees.”  Four minutes later, Stephen told me that Misty might be in labor.  It was a bit of a day.

I was mainly excited that my friends would be bringing another awesome kid into the world (and Liza is indeed awesome), but I was also worried about my server going into massive heat death.  Single server, four CPUs, moderate amount of RAM, SCSI hard drives, Web and SQL stored on the same drives.  You can imagine how that went.

I only came across this anniversary the other day when one of my choir kids posted the following:


I responded with a link to LOLTrek, and when I did so, I noticed the date stamp.  I thought I’d bring it up, because it still makes me laugh.  The funniest thing for me are the commercials.

My friend Stephen is funny, smart, loving, and supporting.  But mostly funny.  I was happy to nod to LOLTrek with a Whiskerino shot that, disappointingly, no one seemed to care about.

Go enjoy LOLTrek if you’ve never seen it, and remember that, six years ago, lolcats were a new thing on the Internets.  [Note: I'm really glad that Stephen has held firm to never trying to take another bite at the apple.]


I consider Derek Webb to be a friend.  Back when you needed things like fan sites, Bryan and I ran to help him disseminate information.  Now in the Twitter era, musicians don’t need people like me to get the word out.  In a disintermediated world, I am the middle man that’s been cut out.

Twitter’s dangerous, though.  Sometimes you’ll say something and then … well, what happened, FV?

DW is exasperated by following Q.


Mr. Webb followed your humble correspondent for about a month, and as we’ve established that I’m a prolific tweeter myself, I understood his exasperation, but I was more than a bit surprised that Quest’s follow-up was a block.

So where has this gone since?  The Houston Chronicle has covered the matter fairly extensively, in light of possibly educating ? about why he should reconsider.  In fact, Jason Bellini appears to have tried to broker a truce to this little Internet rap feud, pointing Quest to the story.  His one answer: “Well”?

Then Derek took it the extra mile.

Will this work?  Is it shameless promotion on Derek’s part?  Is it something that Questlove will respond to?  Will he bring Webb on the show and unblock him publicly?  Will I drive to NYC if that happens?  We can only wait and see.

C’mon, Q.  What kind of taco did you have for lunch?  D, I had a bagel with egg, bacon, cheese, green pepper, onion, and roasted red peppers around 2:45 this afternoon.  I got a bit of a late start.

100,000: A Twitter Milestone

This post will generate a tweet that will be my 100,000th update with the service.  I joined Twitter on 23 Jan 2007, which means that I have 2,285 days of tweeting and a slightly disgusting 43.7 tweets a day.  Mind you, this includes conversations — a lot of conversations — and that has jacked up my tweet count pretty high.  If you don’t know, I’m @gfmorris.

What do I tweet about?

  • Whatever’s on my mind.  You know, like when I used to blog about being sick, except shorter.
  • I used to have this whole GEOFCON gag.  I get complain-y.  I do this to blow off steam.
  • Going back to whatever’s top of mind: if I am physically present with someone, my tweeting generally grinds to a halt, because the extrovert part of my personality gets all into having someone to engage.  I tweet when I’m alone.  Clearly I’m alone a lot.
  • I really do think out loud on Twitter.  Posts for here often come from Twitter.  Sometimes, that means that I’m letting half-formed thoughts out there in a brainstorming experiment that makes me look really stupid.  Occasionally, I delete things; most of the time, I don’t mind looking daft.
  • I tweet a lot about insomnia.  I created the #OIT tag for Obligatory Insomnia Tweet.  To wit: my 99,999th tweet was about how I didn’t sleep well last night.
  • I used tweet a lot about sports on that account.  Now I have an account specifically for that.  I’m sure that this makes the lives of people who follow me for non-sports-related tweets very, very happy, especially when I start getting angry.
  • I have a lot of accounts, but only three that are truly by-me.  The third is a private account that I probably won’t give you access to, and it’s the one where the really fun stuff happens, mostly late at night when I am distressed.  Anyway.
  • But a lot of my tweets show my love for people, I think.  I got a lot of that back on 20 Sep 2010 — it kept me going and out of a really bad place.

I’m very thankful for Twitter.  Now I can go back to tweeting without caring what post number it was.  I’ve been worried for the last month that I’d roll past 100k and not notice.

Driverless Cars and Routing Around Damage

Dan talks a lot about his technological assumptions.  I generally agree, but:

Take, for instance, a self-driving car. One of the assumptions we have is that allowing computers to drive cars will allow a lot more cars to be on the road, since computers are better drivers than humans (a fact I don’t want to dispute). But imagine we do fit 30% more cars on the road. Imagine a traffic disruption. There will surely be far fewer traffic disruptions because computers are better drivers than humans. But when they do occur, they will cause massively more congestion than now, because the system will have been optimised that much further.

A driverless car will be best implemented when it communicates with its peers in a networked way that mimics the old CB network band: “Get off at Exit 351 and take US 31 north; I-65 is a parking lot.”  But there’s fragility, of course: not all cars will have humans out of the loop, not everyone will have a car that communicates in the same way, there will be network outages, etc.  That’s why peer-to-peer on open technologies will make that work.

See, my technological bias is showing.  But I will also admit my own bias against driverless cars: I’d rather drive, and if not, I’d rather take mass transit to have it be worthwhile.