Tag: backup

Wiki backup: information environment

Last year, my wiki went down at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. For reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to resurrect it. This made me sad, particularly because there was some stuff on there that didn’t exist anywhere else.

After a brief period of mourning, I got on with my life. Noel De Martin, however, decided to do some digging via the Wayback Machine, and found several pages, which I’m copying-and-pasting to my blog for posterity.

What follows is a snapshot of my ‘Daily reading’ page from July 2017.


This page helps list out the sites and services that constitute my digital information environment. It’s too difficult to decide, especially in this day an age, where ‘entertainment’ starts, and ‘information’ begins, so I’ve included everything I look at regularly.

Newspaper

Aggregators

Newsletters

I try out other ones, but these are my favourites:

Podcasts

As with the newsletters, I subscribe to other podcasts on a regular basis, but here are my go-to ones that I wouldn’t want to miss:

Routines

Internet culture

Music

Wiki backup: collaboration style

Last year, my wiki went down at dougbelshaw.com/wiki. For reasons too boring to go into, I was unable to resurrect it. This made me sad, particularly because there was some stuff on there that didn’t exist anywhere else.

After a brief period of mourning, I got on with my life. Noel De Martin, however, decided to do some digging via the Wayback Machine, and found several pages, which I’m copying-and-pasting to my blog for posterity.

What follows is a snapshot of my ‘Collaboration style’ page from October 2016.


This page is influenced by Peter Drucker’s excellent short book Managing Oneself and the section of Gwern Branwen’s website on his own collaboration style. Although slightly tangential, I’ve also always found Buster Benson’s Codex Vitae a useful thing to return to on occasion.


Right now, I’m 35. I was in formal education for 27 of those years, and had an employer for 11 of them. I’m now a consultant and everything I do is what comes under the broad umbrella of ‘knowledge work’:

Knowledge workers have high degrees of expertise, education, or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution or application of knowledge. (Thomas Davenport, Thinking For a Living

The problem is that this means that it’s difficult to know how to fit into the big picture. Here’s how Peter Drucker puts it:

[M]ost people, especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties. By that time, however, they should know the answers to the three questions: What are my strengths? How do I perform? and, What are my values? And then they can and should decide where they belong.

[…] [K]nowing the answer to these questions enables a person to say to an opportunity, an offer, or an assignment, “Yes, I will do that. But this is the way I should be doing it. This is the way it should be structured. This is the way the relationships should be. These are the kind of results you should expect from me, and in this time frame, because this is who I am.” (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

In other words, you should always be on the front foot. Don’t accept other people’s expectations, but (as Socrates exhorted) we should know ourselves well enough to be able to accept or reject work based on introspection.

The person who has learned that he or she does not perform well in a big organization should have learned to say no to a position in one. The person who has learned that he or she is not a decision maker should have learned to say no to a decision-making assignment. (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

Using these two examples as an initial lens, I do enjoy taking decisions when I feel like there’s been a proper process leading to that point. I certainly do not enjoy working within large organisations. I dislike hierarchy and bureaucracy intensely. I’m also quite different in terms of emotional make-up at different times of the year. As an ambivert, I find that the more extroverted side of my personality comes out between the spring and autumnal equinoxes, and for the other half of the year I’m more on the introverted side. I guess this can be frustrating for people who assume (or expect) consistency.

Elsewhere, Drucker mentions that another important question to ask oneself is, “Do I perform well under stress, or do I need a highly structured and predictable environment? I find this a false binary. While I don’t appreciate arbitrary deadlines (usually a function of an oppressive hierarchy) I structure my own fairly predictable environment. However, I mix this up by frequent flights into serendipity in both my reading and travel, as well as taking fallow days where I’m purposefully ‘unproductive’. These ‘Doug days’ as I’ve come to call them, are the reason I strive to work a four-day week.

Even people who understand the importance of taking responsibility for relationships often do not communicate sufficiently with their associates. They are afraid of being thought presumptuous or inquisitive or stupid. They are wrong. Whenever someone goes to his or her associates and says, “This is what I am good at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver,” the response is always, “This is most helpful. But why didn’t you tell me earlier?” (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

I’m strong on values and don’t like them compromised. I set great store by my logical approach, although I do try to temper that with empathy. The thing that I cannot stand more than anything in co-workers (and, indeed, my children) is when it’s obvious that the other person isn’t trying their best. There’s always cases where there’s genuine reasons for soft-peddling, but most of the time I expect people to bring their A-game.

My contribution to projects is often to problematise (assumed) simplicity, or to do the reverse – to simplify the complex. In this, I bring to bear my undergraduate philosophical training, as well as my postgraduate studies around ambiguity and metaphor. I find that we as humans think primarily through metaphor, even when we don’t realise, and don’t realise that there are different types of ambiguity.

Knowledge workers in particular have to learn to ask a question that has not been asked before: What should my contribution be? To answer it, they must address three distinct elements: What does the situation require? Given my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest contribution to what needs to be done? And finally, What results have to be achieved to make a difference? (Peter Drucker, Managing Oneself)

The difficulty in working in a field like edtech is that (as I argued in a recent post) it’s not really a coherent field or discipline. As such, it’s difficult to see where the boundaries are, and therefore what needs to be done. I suppose I bumble along as best I can using my knowledge and skills, but I certainly think there’s many of us who would benefit from adding scaffold around us.

Moving on from SpiderOak Hive to BTSync

TL;DR: I’m now using a combination of BitTorrent Sync and Dropbox for my file sync and storage requirements. I use the former for private stuff and with the latter I just assume that everything in there is publicly-accessible.


Last month I wrote a post entitled Why I’m saying goodbye to Dropbox and hello to SpiderOak Hive. I learned so much in the 48 hours following its publication.

First of all, because the post hit the front page of Hacker News, this blog was overwhelmed with traffic. Whereas I get anywhere between 200 and 1,000 visits per day, on that I got more than 15,000 in just a few hours. It would have been more but I hadn’t configured my web hosting properly and so the server went down. That’s something I’ve sorted out, using the Quick Cache plugin for WordPress and signing up for the free version of Cloudflare.

Second, the comments I received on the HN thread and the blog post itself were eye opening. I’d assumed that SpiderOak’s commitment to encrypting my files using a password only I knew kept me safe. It turns out that’s not the case:

If SpiderOak had been compromised by the US government forcing them to install a backdoor, they would be forbidden by law from telling anyone about this. They would not be allowed to remove the clauses from their service description that claim no-one is able to decrypt your data.

This is the special risk of dealing with US-based companies. They can be forced to install decryption backdoors or hand over their users’ data while continuing to tell the users they are unable to do so. So you must assume no US-based service is truly secure.

(flurpitude)

I went down deep, dark holes investigating other options that I’ll not discuss here. What woke me up, though, was a couple of things. One person said to me something along the lines of:

Is the NSA a credible threat against you and your family?

To which I had to reply that while I feel uncomfortable about it all… no, they’re not. Their suggestion, therefore, was that political and social pressure to reform the NSA was probably better than trying to outgun a well-funded government body that has the force of law on their side.

Although there were some suggestions of some niche products, the most common suggestions were that I either encrypt my files before syncing with Dropbox, or that I use BitTorrent Sync. I’d already been experimenting with BTSync, so in the end I’ve decided to go with that. Having to unmount drives to ensure they’re synced with Dropbox in an encrypted state is an annoyance and something that I’m likely to forget to do.

So I’ve cancelled my SpiderOak account. They were really good about it, actually. And instead I’m syncing private files (like family photos, documents pertaining to money, sensitive information, etc.)  between my laptop, HP MicroServer and kitchen PC. Anything I’m likely to want to share with others and which is fine being in the public domain goes in my free 18GB Dropbox.

It’s working pretty well so far, especially now BTSync has both Android and iOS clients. 🙂

Why I’m saying goodbye to Dropbox and hello to SpiderOak Hive

Update: Since writing this post I’ve moved on. I’m now using a combination of Dropbox (shared, work stuff) and Bittorrent Sync (everything else). More in this post.


TL;DR version: I’m moving from Dropbox to SpiderOak for file sync/backup. SpiderOak not only encrypts files in transit, but on their servers. The encryption key stays on the user’s machine so SpiderOak employees (or anyone else) can’t get access to your files.


I’ve been a happy Dropbox user for years. I even took Lifehacker’s advice a couple of years ago and made it, effectively, ‘My Documents’; if it was on my machine it was backed up to Dropbox’s servers. I’ve had zero user experience issues with Dropbox, finding it efficient and useful for when I want to share something while on-the-go. The mobile apps are great and the pricing plans are reasonable.

So why have I just jumped ship to SpiderOak?

My main concerns are around the NSA revelations. I’ve taken my time to read up on what’s going on and, last Sunday, finally felt I could write my response. As a consquence, I’m reviewing the core services I rely upon on a day-to-day basis. I had Dropbox in my crosshairs due to their seemingly regular and high-profile security breaches. It helped that my yearly renewal was due this Friday.

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the difference between Dropbox and SpiderOak is like this: if you forget your Dropbox password you’re able to reset it. That’s great, but it means that Dropbox has the means to access your files as they hold the key to unlocking your files.

It’s worth saying at this point that I don’t, to my knowledge, do anything wildly illegal. But why should others have access to my files? There’s a reason we put curtains on our windows. Privacy is something that we should care about and defend.

Something we’ve all learned from the Lavabit fiasco is that government security agencies can force individuals and companies not to release details of privacy and security infringements. So if my files were accessed I’d be none the wiser. Dropbox is insecure from many angles. I wanted out.

SpiderOak encrypts your files and then sends them securely to their servers. The key to decrypt those files is on your machine. The key and the files aren’t kept together. It means, of course, that you have to have a reliable password system in place (I use LastPass and 64-character strings) but means people can’t access your unencrypted files on the ‘cloud’ server.*

I researched many other options to Dropbox. I’ll not detail them here as I had to reject them for one reason or another. Instead, I think it’s worth quoting from the SpiderOak FAQ in response to the question ‘What if I forget my SpiderOak password?’

Changing your password from any computer in your SpiderOak account will reset your password for all your computers and the website. However, if can’t reset your password from another machine and the hint has still not helped you remember your password, then I’m afraid your only option is to open a new account. Here at SpiderOak we take our zero-knowledge privacy policy very seriously, so we never have any knowledge of your password and no way to retrieve or reset it, even in emergencies. It’s our way of ensuring that our customers’ data is always completely secure… even from ourselves! If you need any more assistance recovering your password or resetting your account, please contact support@nullspideroak.com.

It looks like there’s different ways you can use SpiderOak, but I’m going to be using SpiderOak Hive almost exclusive as it offers ‘drag-and-drop syncing across all your devices’. In essence, it’ll be a replacement for my Dropbox folder.

I’ll still be keeping my free Dropbox account for legacy shares and my ebook workflow. Other than that, I’ll be using SpiderOak.

Now then, you’ll have to excuse me. I’ve got >100GB to sync… 😉


*You should have full-disk encryption turned on and switch off your computer when you’re finished using it, if you want to secure the files on your computer.

Project Reclaim: backing up to local network storage

Learn about Project Reclaim here.

Netgear Stora

As, seemingly, most of the rest of the world, I’ve got a (50GB subscription to) Dropbox. I use it in place of the ‘Documents’ folder on my MacBook Pro and, at work, instead of the ‘My Documents’ folder in Windows. Everything is kept in sync between the machines and it’s all backed-up in the cloud.

That’s all well-and-good, and three places to store data is obviously a good situation to be in. However, given the recent Amazon EC2 outage (Dropbox uses EC2) I’d like to have a local backup solution. Until 2009 my wife and I used to do this with the use of an Apple Time Capsule, but the incremental backups used to slowdown our laptops so much that we eventually sold it. Every now and again I’ll backup to a 2TB external hard disk, but that’s only when I remember.

I wanted something better.

After looking at our needs and the options, I settled on a Netgear Stora* and two 2TB hard disks in RAID1 configuration**. This means that data is written to both disks simultaneously – i.e. a Redundant Array of Independent Disks. It came in at about £170 all-told, which isn’t bad at all – especially when you consider that it’s got secure web access to the files it contains and is extremely easy-to-use.

Once you’ve spent 10 minutes getting the Stora up-and-running, you need a way to get files onto it. That’s as easy as drag-and-drop if you want it to be, but I want a more robust solution. As with Dropbox, after the initial backup I only want to transfer the files that have changed. Enter rsync – or, more accurately, arRsync (Mac only). The graphical front-end is simple and effective. I refused to pay $40 for the privilege of the (admittedly widely-acclaimed) ChronoSync.


*Other NAS drives I looked at have bittorrent functionality. This can be enabled on the Stora by looking here or here.

**This isn’t a techie post, so if you want to read about RAID, I suggest this post on Wikipedia.

Off-site and cloud-based backup: my solution.

Over Christmas I was talking with someone about backing up data. They quite rightly pointed out something I hadn’t really considered – namely, I may have an Apple Time Capsule, but if my house burned down I’d be a bit stuck. 😮

As a consequence, I’m in the market for an upgrade to a paid-for cloud-based backup solution. I asked a few people on Twitter and in person what they used for off-site backups. They mentioned the four below:

Comparison of cloud-based backup solutions (Jan 2010)

(too small? click on the table to enlarge!)

I tried these out. I found that all of them apart from Dropbox had something lacking:

  • box.net is a bit too business-focused.
  • MobileMe may provide extra features but only 20GB of storage. Also don’t like having to pay in one big chunk for a year’s service.
  • SugarSync is interesting and the cheapest of the options above, but I didn’t like the interface.

As I navigated to the Dropbox website to give them my credit card details, I remembered Zumodrive. I used to use it all of the time last academic year, but hadn’t looked at it for a while. I thought it could be perfect for my needs! Why?

  1. It now has ‘folder linking’. This means changes made in a particular folder are always reflected in Zumodrive with no extra actions needed by the user. This is also the case in the other solutions outlined above, but didn’t used to be the case with Zumodrive (it used to be like an online USB flash drive).
  2. Photos are automatically synced with either iPhoto or Picasa (I use the latter). This is particularly handy for the photos I don’t deem worthy enough to go on my Flickr account.
  3. As with Dropbox and other solutions, you can instantly share any file with others through a link on Zumodrive.
  4. The cheapest upgrade is only $2.99/month.
  5. You can open files from iWork 09.

I signed up for the $6.99/month 25GB option.

However, calculating the amount of data I was going to need to backup overall it looked like I was going to have to spend $9.99/month for 50GB and then, before long, probably have to move up to the 100GB $19.99/month plan. I didn’t like the sound of that.

I tweeted about this and Mark Wagner, amongst others, replied:

Thinking about this, I realised that I’d conflated cloud-based and off-site storage. What I really need is something to sync Documents and other files of my choosing so they’re available quickly and easily (e.g. via my iPhone). And then, separately, I need an ongoing archive of all of my stuff.

I’ve signed up for Mozy. They do unlimited non-commercial storage for $4.95/month. That’s my off-site storage solution. My cloud-based storage solution is going to be a free Dropbox account. Why? Because it’s truly cross-platform, has a great iPhone app and you can gain an extra 250MB storage for every referral you make! 😀

I need 7 more people to sign up for Dropbox to get my maximum referral bonus space (3GB). If you’re going to sign up, would you consider using one of the links to the service in this post please?

What are YOU using? Why?

Social media, open standards & curmudgeonliness.

The problem:

Harold Jarche:

The increasing use of software as a service (SaaS)… is simple, easy and out of your control.

Luis Suarez:

I guess I could sum it up in one single sentence: “The more heavily involved I’m with the various social networking sites available out there, the more I heart my own… blogs“.

It all has got to do with something as important as protecting your identity, your brand… your personal image, your own self in various social software spaces that more and more we seem to keep losing control over, and with no remedy.

A proposed solution:

Harold Jarche:

Own your own data (CC-BY Harold Jarche)

I’ve decided to start the Curmudgeon’s Manifesto, which may serve as a call to arms to start dumping platforms that don’t understand how to play nice on the Internet. It’s our playground, and through our actions we get to set the rules of conduct.

Here’s my start (additions welcome):

  1. I will not use web services that hijack my data or that of my network.
  2. I will share openly on the Web and not constrain those with whom I share.
  3. I will not lead others into the temptation of using web services that do not respect privacy, re-use, open formats or exportable data.

An alternative solution:

Wikipedia:

An open standard is a standard that is publicly available and has various rights to use associated with it, and may also have various properties of how it was designed (e.g. open process).

The term “open standard” is sometimes coupled with “open source” with the idea that a standard is not truly open if it does not have a complete free/open source reference implementation available.

OpenSocial:

OpenSocial

Friends are fun, but they’re only on some websites. OpenSocial helps these sites share their social data with the web. Applications that use the OpenSocial APIs can be embedded within a social network itself, or access a site’s social data from anywhere on the web.

Harold Jarche:

Blog Central

One way to keep information accessible is to use an open, accessible, personal blog as the centre of your web presence.

OpenID:

OpenID is a decentralized standard, meaning it is not controlled by any one website or service provider. You control how much personal information you choose to share with websites that accept OpenIDs, and multiple OpenIDs can be used for different websites or purposes. If your email (Google, Yahoo, AOL), photo stream (Flickr) or blog (Blogger, WordPress, LiveJournal) serves as your primary online presence, OpenID allows you to use that portable identity across the web.

Conclusion:

Change the name of the Curmudgeon’s Manifesto to the Open Educators’ Manifesto (or similar). Back OpenID and OpenSocial. People like to sign up to positive-sounding things that cite big players or existing traction. I’m sure Chris Messina and other open (source/web) advocates have a take on this! 😀

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