Sun, 25 Mar 2007

Backups, cont.

— SjG @ 9:50 pm

OK. I’m a bonehead. The link I provided to my backup script tarball was broken. The link is fixed.

But wait! A new version of the scripts will be posted in a few days. It’s got some bug fixes and some new features. With it, the little birds really do sing more cheerfully, and the colors really will be brighter.

(As an aside … I don’t know why none of the people who clicked on the broken link bothered to send me an email or leave a comment to tell me there was a problem. Could that all have been robot traffic?)

Thu, 8 Mar 2007

Automated Backups – Updated!

— SjG @ 3:50 pm

[Update — fixed the link!]

Automated Backups are a good thing. Automated Backups make the little birds sing, the rainbows shine, and little fauns gambol about in beautiful green forests. When computers are backed up, the butterflies flutter, the flowers bloom, and the fruit from the trees taste just a little sweeter. But when computers are not backed up, the universe becomes angry.

An angry universe is not a good thing. An angry universe makes little birds cry. An angry universe makes Cthulhu come and visit.

So. Automated backups. I’m partial to rdiff-backup because it allows me to not only back up data, but keep previous versions available. Backing up nightly doesn’t help if you accidentally overwrite the contents of a file with something, and don’t notice for a day or two. But with rdiff-backup, you can restore the version before the error.

Unfortunately, rdiff-backup really is designed for server-to-server backups, where each end of the transaction has shell access. Enter duplicity, a related project. It’s more designed for storing backups on servers that you don’t control and/or don’t trust. It allows encryption of your backup sets, as well as supporting a wider variety of protocols (ftp, scp, s3, etc.)

So with a combination of these two scripts, you can backup pretty much any POSIX-ish server to pretty much anything that you can ftp or ssh into. Still, it’d be nice if you could:

  • Check that the backups completed successfully, and get email confirming that success or warning on a failure.
  • Configure up all of your various backups by a simple text file, rather than remembering the different command-line formats.
  • Create groups of options that can be applied to backup tasks.
  • Issue commands on the backup source and destinations before and/or after the backup (good for dumping databases into a flat file, for example, and then deleting it after it’s backed up).
  • Get email confirmation on completion of backups.
  • Have some tools to simplify the securing of the backup process.

For these reasons, I put together this backup script, which is basically a Ruby wrapper for rdiff-backup and duplicity. It’s almost entirely configured via two human-readable yaml files.

It’s flexible, reasonably simple to use, and comes without any guarantees whatsoever. Feel free to use it yourself!

DISCLAIMER: it’s as-is. Not to be used in place of a certified Cthulhu-deterrent. Use at your own risk. To quote the duplicity page: “[it] is not stable yet. It is thought to have a few bugs, but will work for normal usage, and should continue to work fine until you depend on it for your business or to protect important personal data.” — that goes for me too, only double.

Sun, 25 Feb 2007

Anarchism and Other Essays

— SjG @ 7:24 pm

Emma Goldman, with an introduction by Hippolyte Havel, 1911, a Gutenberg Project e-book, downloaded via

I started reading this over lunch. I was sitting in an In ‘n’ Out Burger outlet that’s located in the vast parking lot of a CostCo warehouse. The guy to my right at the counter was wearing a suit, and was studiously reading The Wall Street Journal. I’d be hard pressed to describe a more commonplace scene of overwhelming American capitalism.

In this environment, I started reading Havel’s introduction, which would be better described as a fawning hagiography written in full-on Socialist jargon. If written today, it would read as parody. But this sets the scene, which is important while reading all of the essays: when Emma wrote these, it would be nearly ten years before women gained the vote in the US; penicillin was twenty years away from being used as an antibiotic; no nation had yet bombed another from the air; no nation had yet been ruled under a formally Fascist, Socialist, or Communist philosophy; Ford’s Model T was a brand new product; nations measured their military might by their navies and their cavalries; the bloody and profound transformations of Europe that characterized much of the the 20th century had yet to unfold. Emma’s unbounded optimism of 1911 was inspired, inspiring, and based on a world full of the promise of great changes, however ill-placed and tragic it may appear in retrospect.

It was a very different time, and yet, for all these differences, it was very much like today. If I were to remove the names from one of Emma’s contemptuous dismissals of McKinley, I could easily pass it off as being contemporary. Her critique of what we today call the “prison industrial complex” reads like it’s straight from the papers, citing the dramatic growth in prison population and showing that the US had (has) the highest incarceration percentage of any industrial nation. She dove headlong into the nature versus nurture debate, arguing that children (even of impoverished, “lazy” people) could be raised in a wholesome environment and turn out enthusiastic and intelligent.

Where Emma surprised me was her dismissal of women’s suffrage, which reminded me of the bumper sticker that says “don’t vote — it only encourages them!” She believed that anything that could be voted upon would need be so entrenched in the system as to be meaningless. Change could only come from dismantling the system entirely. That Emma was against marriage was not surprising. That she was against the military and particularly the draft was also not surprising, although the intensity of her argument that barracks led to unacceptable “perversions” was.

Interestingly, the core of her belief in anarchy resided in a very Germanic attitude towards work. She believed that all the ills of the world lay in the inability for people to do the work they loved, unmolested. Work was the way to fulfillment, and if people were only allowed to do good, satisfying work, the anarchist utopia would arrive.

And, actually, her essay on the problems of feminism was perhaps the most poignant — she talks of the burden of being an intelligent woman in a society that holds women as second-class citizens. By living up to her intellectual potential, the woman is alienated from society, and thereby prevented from having meaningful relationships. Evidently, even progressive men are sufficiently trapped in convention that they can’t love a woman as an equal.

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Sun, 18 Feb 2007

Mardi Gras!

— SjG @ 10:26 pm

Saturday was the Grand View Krewe’s annual Mardi Gras extravaganza at Venice Beach.

I took close to eight hundred pictures. I’m currently sorting, refining, color-correcting, cropping, etc. They’ll be available in the gallery soon! You can see pictures from 2003 and 2004 there now … If I get my act together, I’ll post up pictures from not just this year, but the last three years…

While you’re waiting, check out some music by The Gumbo Brothers.

Mon, 5 Feb 2007

Dogfight, except with birds

— SjG @ 10:46 am

On my walk in this morning, I was surprised to see a red-tailed hawk, fluttering low over the sports-fields of Venice High School. I do occasionally see red-tails in the area, but I didn’t think it would find much to hunt at the high school (then again, I guess there could be other birds there).

The red-tail was fluttering, riding up on thermals, swooping around, and just being generally magnificent. But before long, a single crow vectored in and started harassing it. They spun around in numerous quick dives and spins, with the hawk flipping and keeping its talons pointed crow-wards as much as possible, while the crow kept zipping around and trying to peck from behind.

After a few charges and countermeasures, the crow managing to pull a feather from the hawk, at which time the red-tail skipped all defensive maneuvers and started beating a retreat. As it headed southwest, a whole mob of crows emerged from a deodar. It didn’t look like the flock actually went after the hawk, but it was clear they were defending territory.

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