A replacement for CrashPlan

Last month, I wrote how CrashPlan is discontinuing their home service and that I had to find a suitable alternative. Backup solutions aren’t the most thrilling kind of software and investigating and evaluating the different options can hardly be considered fun. The complicating fact is that I have an atypical arrangement, or I suppose you could call it a specific set of requirements. I have a server along with other computers at home and another server at my mother-in-law’s along with her computer. Since I’m a firm believer of the 3-2-1 backup rules, I wanted to make sure everything is suitably protected.

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The Search Begins: A New Backup Solution

This past week, Code42 Software announced they are going to stop supporting their CrashPlan backup solution for personal or home use. That is unfortunate news since I’ve been a customer for over ten years and was quite satisfied and invested in their service. While they have every right to run their business as they choose (especially if the economics don’t work in the long term) the impact to a significant portion of their userbase is not one that will be easy for them to recover from.

My current subscription is only good for a few more months and I now must find an alternate solution that allows my data to be sufficiently protected in a way that is still practical and reasonably priced. So far, the two leading candidates are Arq by Haystack Software and Backblaze. Neither one is a direct replacement so the decision isn’t clear. There may also be other options that should be considered. It will likely come down to the tradeoffs that I’m willing to make. Do I not back up as many computers as I have? Do I no longer also utilize a local backup?

Another possibility is to engineer a bespoke solution by one method or another. That would probably cover my needs better, but would also likely require more upfront effort to implement and ongoing maintenance. Clearly, the classic “build vs. buy” decision isn’t just limited to the domain of business IT.

Peay It Forward

Ok, I admit that the title’s lame, but I thought it was fun. You’re here reading this so I suppose it’s not all bad…

As one progresses through life and their career, knowledge and experience naturally accumulate. As you get exposed to new things and tackle the novel or unexpected, you generally amass a significant catalog of skills, insights, and, hopefully, wisdom. Over time, you consciously (and subconsciously) incorporate those numerous learnings into your day-to-day playbook to make yourself more efficient or effective. It happens almost automatically because nobody wants to spend more time or effort on something if they don’t have to. Continue reading

A Good Trip to Ghana

Last week, I returned to Ghana to participate in Edify‘s 2nd annual Education Technology Conference. The conference was well-attended and I enjoyed being part of the launch of our e-reader project in conjunction with our partner, Worldreader. Using Kindles to improve the reading ability and enjoyment for students will be a big benefit for many.

Following the event, a group of us had lunch at a rather unique local restaurant: La Tante DC10. Built out of an abandoned DC10 next to Kotaka Airport in 2013, it’s not surprising that it stands out. Very memorable.

 

 

Not just a team, but a family

Not surprisingly, in working for Edify I’ve learned that life in a non-profit requires being very thoughtful and judicious about how we use our resources and spend our money. Certainly, we could expand our manpower by hiring more staff or simply ‘throw money’ at every challenge that arises. That doesn’t work very well in the long run. In daily practice, the challenge is to find creative solutions or strategic trade-offs to keep our focus on our mission: To improve and expand sustainable Christ-centered education globally.

I’m happy to say that there is one thing, which comes at great expense, that is one of our wisest investments of our time and money: our annual team meeting. Each January, our (growing) team gathers to spend time together in fellowship, devotion, training, and sharing. In the past, the meetings have been in San Diego, but this year’s was our first in the field: Ghana.

When you think about all of the effort and expense that goes into flights, visas, lodging, food, and all the related logistics, it would be so easy to for our management to decide against it. Instead, the commitment to the time by our founders and senior management gets stronger each year.

I was fortunate enough to join Edify shortly before last year’s meeting so the one I’m just now returning from is my second. We now total 53 with over a quarter added in the past year alone. As I’m involved in getting each one set up and oriented, I have the benefit of being familiar with names and roles from the start. Hearing their voices on a weekly prayer call or other phone conferences only goes so far to really get to know people. Seeing them in person, sharing a meal, trading stories, is the only way to truly make a connection. That I did at every opportunity.

I can honestly say that my family has grown considerably since I joined Edify. It’s an honor and a pleasure to share my time and talents in service to them and our collective goals.

I have been blessed by the opportunity I’ve had. I cannot wait for us to be together again in 2018!

 

 

Learning to Fly

As a belated birthday present for our daughter, we took a trek yesterday down to the glider port in La Jolla for her to participate in a falconry lesson led by Denise and Kirk of Sky Falconry. It was an absolutely great way to spend a Saturday morning and being an observer of these beautiful raptors is quite an opportunity to learn quite a bit about the birds and the history of working with them. It was almost as enjoyable as being able to interact with them. Almost.


Old-Fashioned Drone Video

Back in my early Sony days when I worked at RedZone Interactive, a friend and I got into RC planes. Since the rest of the studio didn’t generally roll in until about 9:00 or 10:00, we had the opportunity to take our planes out in the lot behind the office in the mornings while the winds were quite gentle. It’s a fond memory.

About the same time, I saw online a wireless video camera that was about the size of a matchbook and immediately thought of attaching it to the plane to get a cool POV video while flying. I should note that this was 2004. GoPro didn’t exist yet let alone the whole ‘sports camera’ category. Neither did drones that are so common nowadays. Am I a trend setter? Not really. I just thought it was a fun idea.

Not surprisingly, it was very jerry-rigged. The camera with built-in transmitter was mounted on a stick protruding from the side of the canopy attached to a 9v battery for power. The receiver was on the ground attached to a video camera recording the results. My friend had to spend the entire flight watching the small screen on the camera while constantly adjusting a tuning knob on the receiver to keep the signal usable. The results are pretty poor by today’s standards, but I think it turned out pretty good, all things considered:

 

Fun times. I still have the plane, though I haven’t used it in years. I just may have to pull it out and see if it still works. I probably won’t bother with the camera.

Starting a new chapter

Since my life-changing event back in March, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many different people and learn about several organizations, each one different from the others. I have also spent a significant amount of time determining who I am professionally (my strengths, weaknesses, and motivations). That combined with my belief that technology can truly make a difference in people’s lives and it has helped direct my search.

Through a most interesting series of events that I’m unable to adequately explain here, I learned of an opportunity at Edify which is a very special non-profit organization that is best summarized from the website: “To improve and to expand sustainable, affordable Christ-centered education in the developing world.” They achieve that by supporting private schools through small loans, training, and technology. To date, they have partnered with over 1,600 schools and have impacted the lives of over 300,000 students.

After many conversations it became more and more clear that there was a unique match between their needs and my background and skills. I’m happy and proud to say that they have invited me to join with them in their work and start tomorrow as their Vice President of Information Technology. I cannot convey how excited I am for this opportunity and look forward to making an impact in ways I surely couldn’t have previously imagined.

Having the Summer off to enjoy my family was a significant blessing. In light of having just taken my oldest child off to college for the first time yesterday, it all couldn’t have worked out better. Yet another sign that the Lord’s plans are the best.

Watching a log file in a bash script

For the last few months, I’ve been doing some contracting developing automation scripts in bash. It’s been a fun diversion from my job search and leverages my sysadmin background. It has also improved my command of vi and several tricks in bash scripting. I wanted to share one that may be of help to others.

In the scripts that I wrote, it was necessary to kick of a long-running process and then act on entries written to a log file. I created a watcher routine to accomplish this:

01  successfulRun=0
02  keepRunning=1
03  while [ $keepRunning -eq 1 ] && read -t 3600 line; do
04      case "$line" in
05          *completion string* )
06              echo "Completed successfully. Exiting monitor."
07              successfulRun=1
08              keepRunning=0
09              ;;
10          *error string* )
11              echo "ERROR entry found in log. Exiting monitor."
12              keepRunning=0
13              ;;
14          * )
15              echo "Just another line. Monitor continuing."
16              ;;
17      esac
18  done < <(tail --pid=$$ -n0 -F ${logfile})

It’s a general while loop, but there are some useful features. First, in line 3 is “read -t 3600” which allows the loop to break if nothing gets written to the file for an hour (3600 seconds). After the loop, if keepRunning is 1 and successfulRun is 0, I know it timed out.

Lines 5, 10, and 14 allow for cases for any strings encountered. For my uses, I was looking for a success string which meant my script could continue on. Similarly, if an error string is encountered, I exit accordingly. The last one (line 14) is the default case, which probably isn’t needed unless you want to provide feedback of progress.

The last feature is in line 18. The –pid=$$ option allows the tail command to close the logfile when the parent script completes. That allows for a very nice wrap-up no matter what happens. Nice, huh?