How I Backup My Macs: December 2013

Oh no, not this shit again.

DAMN RIGHT I’M GOING HERE AGAIN.  Why?

  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 drive ((I have a spare on the floor in my office waiting for this to happen.  It’s been there for a few months.)) 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 setup ((I will write about that at some point, I promise.)) 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. ((Seriously, we put men on the moon and then get treated like this? “Come on!” —GOB))
  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 number ((256-527-8152)), 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 gfmorris@gfmorris.net, and John, my number is in that footnote. ((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.

My iTunes Smart Playlists, c. 2011

Five years ago, I wrote about my iTunes Smart Playlists set. Since then, more than a few changes have happened to iTunes, including Genius playlists and the renaming of Party Shuffle to iTunes DJ. Amazingly, I’m still largely using the setup I had five years ago. Here’s what I have feeding everything:

I found the filter necessary for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, I didn’t want to hear stuff that I’d skipped over, and I didn’t want to hear crappy music. The Christmas genre rule gets removed between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas, but otherwise it stays gone. As for comedy tracks, I’m wanting to listen to music when I use this playlist. I choose to listen to comedy albums beginning-to-end, anyway. ((If you’re curious: Caliendo, Leary, Engvall, and that Blue Collar Comedy stuff. It makes me laugh. I can’t help it.))

Here’s the source for the filter:

There’s been consolidation. The cutoff of “Rolling 3 Months…” is “of Adds”. I went from a rolling month to a rolling quarter purely because I wasn’t adding music to the library as often. The only thing I’m really missing here is the Randomizer list; writing this has me considering re-instituting it.

The Rolling 3 Months list isn’t worth taking a screenshot. The only filter on it is that the Rating must be non-zero.

Great But Forgotten:

The main change here is the definition of “forgotten” from a five days to 90. I often use this as an iTunes DJ source playlist. ((It was the source playlist while writing this.))

Heavy Rotation:

This playlist is the main reason I reset my iTunes play counts on New Year’s Day. The play count can get skewed if there’s an album you listen to a ton. I’ve also had an album end up Heavy Rotation purely because I had it playing in iTunes with the sound muted. ((I’ve taken to stopping iTunes rather than letting it play in the background and seeing Last.FM data. I don’t have a good answer as to why I was doing that before.)) Having a fresh start on the play count is a good thing. Heavy Rotation will tell you that I’ve spent a lot of time listening to Broken Bells and Radiohead this week.

Least Often Played:

The other thing that concerned me about resetting plays was that this playlist would become useless, but the Last Played data does stay intact. Very cool.

I don’t think 4-Star and 5-Star Albums require explanation.

Putting Things on Probation

So the other day, Chris and I were having one of our typically nerdy email conversations. The subject of feed reader workflows came up, and I said:

I think decluttering [feeds] is a task worth doing about once a month. I keep a Probation folder for new feeds and only move them out after I wonder, “Why haven’t I filed this elsewhere?”

Chris loved the idea. It made me think, though, about how I don’t extend this concept elsewhere in my inputs. Especially with the Twitter. Hence @gfmorris/probation. Folks I put in here are potentially going to get perma-followed if I find that they add value to my incoming Twitter stream. Also, it will give me pause to think about reworking my lists as I see fit. I am currently in need of whacking the “celebrities” and “humor” lists in favor of writers and maybe sports. I’m still cogitating on what that means.

But anyway, back to the probationary stuff: I think that’s key for dipping your toe in the water with any new input you acquire: you can pay it the proper amount of attention [read: low]. If you find yourself asking the question I ask above, well, you know that it needs a higher level of attention.

Of course, the counter is that we need a to-be-demoted list for things that might need to be culled. Have to mull on that one a while.

Elements of a Good Band Website

Okay, so here’s a rant that I’ve had boil up in my head for the better part of a year or two, and finally, well, I’m here.

If I made a band’s Web site, I would have, at a minimum:

  1. Lyrics to the songs. This is so unbelievably important, and it’s so unfuckinglybelieveably frustrating that more bands don’t do it. Let me give you a hint, bands: hiding your lyrics from the Web will just have some fanboy put them out there for the world to see, and the people who will get the traffic [and the ad revenue] are the shady jerks with the “Congratulations, you have won a free Nintendo Wii!” ad that screams at you the moment the page loads. You want that traffic. Why? You want them to know who you are.
  2. Tour date listings. Essential. It’s a pain to update them, I know. There’s many apps out there for that, but I would choose Yahoo!’s Upcoming if I were you. Upcoming is searchable, scriptable, extensible, and also pretty darn easy to update. Then there are folks like me who use All Crazy Style to mash up Upcoming data with Last.FM plays to find out when bands I like are playing near me. Real simple: you load the data in Upcoming, and you can spit it out on your site. You can update Upcoming from anywhere.
  3. Links to listen to your stuff. Don’t fire music at me when I load your site. I know you’re a musician, but the Web is largely about text. Let me choose to listen, and give me that option, but that auto-load bullshit is for MySpace. [And don’t get me wrong, MySpace has value.]
  4. Links to buy your stuff. These need to be everywhere: main site, discography pages, album pages, individual song pages. If you create a page per song, that individual song page should have a link of a place to buy that song—iTunes, eMusic, what have you. You want to cater to the fan coming in to Google some obscure lyric they heard on a commercial or in a Zach Braff vehicle—they’re gonna buy that shit if you give them half a chance.

The way to think about it is this: most people aren’t going to load up your main Web site and have that be their entry point. They just aren’t. Google is going to send them to you. So, think about a song you really love, Mr. Band Guy, and Google that. So, if you love Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, you get Last.FM’s page for the song … which has … BINGO … iTunes link. Last has done the heavy lifting for you here. But they’re gonna do that for Page and Plant … chances are they won’t for your garage band.

Some thoughts: if you get a song picked up for Grey’s Anatomy or Kyle XY or whatever, you want to 1) have that fact listed on a page about that song, and not just in a news feed/blog 2) lyrics of the song on that page, so the Googlers who are bad with names but good with ears for mumbled lyrics can find it and 3) a quick, fast way for them to buy that song and 4) relevant links on that page to find out more about you. The scenario is this: “I heard this killer song on Scrubs last night. Let me find it on Google … ooooh, there it is. 99 cents? Sure, I love that song. Hmm … who is this guy? Let me read more about him …”

It’s hell getting found in the music business. It’s hell getting found in the blogging world, too—which is why this entry is named like it is. Chances are that, if you’re not one of my regular readers, you got here from the Goog, too … so you should be nodding your head.

Okay, okay, okay, examples.

Bad: M. Ward: LOUD MUSIC, can’t find shit. Damn shame, because I love M. Ward.

Poor: Shearwater, which has a lyrics page for their stuff, but … in PDF. I know, you want art. I want to cut and paste the lyrics into iTunes. Don’t make me work, dammit.

Okay: The Mountain Goats, who have lyrics for The Sunset Tree available, but that page does not get you anywhere on that site. There isn’t a link to be found—not to the rest of the site, not to a place to buy the song you Googled, nothing. Kudos for posting the links, though.

Good: Andy Osenga, and not just because he uses some of my photos on the site. But he’s still not to great, because lyrics … Andy Osenga lyrics on Google don’t get you anywhere near him. [Or, for that matter, near andrewosenga.net, which is a problem Chris Hubbs and I should fix…]

Great: well, hell, no one really comes to mind. Leave suggestions for good band sites in the comments.

Folks, I know … this shit is hard. But it makes you money, so you better work at it.

My iTunes Smart Playlists

I’m going to take a brief respite from rattling off my 2006 New Year’s Resolutions to kick off my Best Practices category with an entry about the iTunes Smart Playlists I use while seeding Last.FM with data. This is based largely on the playlists that Dougal Campbell shared long ago when I discussed iTunes re-rating on my Weblog.

Radio Airtime Smart Playlist

Match any of the following rules:

Limit to: 3584 MB selected by random.
Match only checked songs.
Live updating.

I limit Radio Airtime to 3.5GB so I can use it as a source for syncing to my iPod nano. You may choose to leave this size restriction off of your Radio Airtime, as well as the limitations you’ll see below. If you don’t use size as a limit, I suggest using song count limits—anywhere from 50-100 should work for you.

You’ll also see below that I use Genre is not Podcast in all these playlists; I don’t want Podcast material to show up here, even though I listen to them from time to time. I just don’t want those to show up in the midst of a music set—hence the limitation. Your mileage may vary.

Great But Forgotten Smart Playlist

Match all the following rules:

  • My Rating is greater than three stars.
  • Last Played is not in the last 5 days.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Limit to 512 MB selected by random.
Live updating.

This provides me with a list of good songs I might not have heard in a while. Sometimes, I twiddle with the amount of time since I heard it, but given that this is a pretty large list, it doesn’t get exhausted quickly … in fact, there’s stuff on there that hasn’t been played in two months. Remember, as this is updated live, songs get pulled off of it, and the list randomized every time.

Heavy Rotation Smart Playlist

Match all of the following:

  • Last Played is in the last 7 days.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Limit to 512 MB selected by most often played.
Live updating.

This throws back at me the stuff I’ve listened to a lot in the life of my iTunes library that I’ve listened to in the last week. Unfortunately, I’ve never found a way for the selected by clause to be “most times played in the last week”, because that would provide me a true heavy rotation. Oh well—this keeps the really great songs coming up all the time. [There’s a reason that I call this Radio Airtime. ;)]

Least Often Played Smart Playlist

Match all of the following:

  • My Rating is greater than two stars.
  • Last Played is not in the last 14 days.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Limit to 512 MB selected by least often played.
Live updating.

This provides me with stuff rated at least three stars [my “listenable” threshhold] that I’ve just not played very often. Sometimes, this sparks a desire to break out an album I haven’t listened to for a while.

Least Recently Played Smart Playlist

Match all of the following:

  • My Rating is greater than two stars.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Limit to 512 MB selected by least recently played.
Live updating.

Like the Least Often Played, this serves to drag up old stuff. The combination of the two is what makes Radio Airtime work in bringing up stuff I’ve not listened to in a while that I don’t just love.

Randomizer Smart Playlist

Match all of the following:

  • My Rating is greater than one star.
  • Last Played is not in the last 10 days.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Limit to 768 MB selected by random.
Live updating.

This provides a random element to the playlist; this is how my crappy-rated songs ever see the light of day.

Recently Added Smart Playlist

Match all of the following rules:

  • Date Added is in the last 5 days.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Live updating.

This keeps the new stuff I add in the mix. I often listen to this playlist by itself as well when getting to know the new music I add. [If you want to see what my new music is, check out my Musiclogging entries on my Weblog.]

Top Songs of the Last Month Smart Playlist

Match all of the following rules:

  • Date Added is in the last 30 days.
  • My Rating is greater than three stars.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Limit to 512 MB selected by random.
Live updating.

This is another way that I keep the good, fresh stuff in my ears. As I’m constantly adding new music, this gives me a month to let it steep. This is another playlist that I sometimes listen to on its own.

Unrated Songs Smart Playlist

Match all of the following rules:

  • My Rating is less than one star.
  • Genre is not Podcast.

Live updating.

When I add new music, I use this playlist until it’s over; I have it in Radio Airtime only because I might screw up sometime.


Do you use similar Smart Playlists to provide yourself with good mixes? If so, I want to hear about it! Also, please feel free to cuss and discuss my ideas below. Again, I want to thank Dougal for his suggestions—they’ve been really helpful.