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Household Tech

My experiences and observations with household and personal technology.

My Revised Backup Mechanism

RAID towerI've posted a lot of now-obsolete descriptions of how I used RAID to do multiple off-site backups of my computer. Originally my process was built around my now-obsolete Mac Pro computer with its rack of removable hard drives.

My new computer does not contain such a rack, so I bought a USB-3 drive bay that holds up to 4 hard drives and provides built-in RAID and drive mirroring. 

I've also signed up with CrashPlan to do off-site backup. I like CrashPlan because the backups are encrypted and they don't think it's their business to keep a copy of my backup's encryption key. This isn't because I have some mania for secrecy. It's to keep the backup compnay honest. If they can't possibly look at my information then they won't be tempted to do so. A "free" backup service, on the other hand, may examine your files and sell the information they find to market research firms.

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Trying Disqus

I am tired of doing site maintenance - it gets in the way of things I ought to be doing instead.

The only reason I want users to log in is to post comments. I've decided to try one of these all-in-one comment management sites. I tripped over Disqus a while back and now I'm giving it a try.

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OS X Lion: No encrypted RAID after all

Full disk encryptionI installed Lion last night and spent today figuring out what does - and does not - work. As a huge fan of full-disk encryption (FDE), I'm disappointed in their drive encryption.

RAID may have been improved, but Lion's encryption features, including Time Machine encryption, are not compatible with Apple's RAID.

The diagram at right (from Elementary Information Security) shows how full-disk encryption (FDE) typically integrates into the system software. The diagram doesn't show where the RAID software might reside. I'd expect it to be very closely tied to the device driver. However, it appears instead that Apple placed the FDE below the RAID software. Perhaps this improves performance, or perhaps the choice was driven by design decisions invisible outside Cupertino.

The Time Machine improvement: they have explicitly documented how to switch in a new mirrored drive for an old one. I haven't tried their suggested process since the upgrade. I'd tried the suggested process a couple of years ago, only to have it fail. So we'll see how it goes.

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Summer Broadband Usage

This is the Comcast report on our broadband usage last summer, after Alex and Courtney moved back home while they looked for an apartment.

Summer Broadband Usage

Comcast did not provide the annotations in red. The heavy dashed line is Comcast's 250GB "limit" on monthly broadband usage. I'm relieved that the limit is an advisory thing, so far, and not something they necessarily enforce.

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RAID Backups Redux: Snow Leopard

Grumble, grumble.

There has been an update to the DiskUtil program that prevents my RAID backup procedure from working.

The version I am running - Version 11.5.2 (298.4) - no longer provides a "Remove" or "Demote" function when a RAID drive is missing or offline. I've found two ways around this. I recommend the first approach for regular use. The second is only provided to illustrate a bizarre feature of Apple RAID.

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RAID Backups with Snow Leopard

[SEE UPDATE due to changes in a Snow Leopard patch]

I've finally completed a whole RAID 1 backup cycle with Snow Leopard and I can reliably report on how it works.

The process, when performed reliably, is essentially unchanged from earlier versions of Mac OS X. [Details added 3/4/11].

Specifically, you must never attach an old software RAID 1 drive to the working RAID 1 set. If the set was missing a drive ("degraded") before you attach the  drive, it will treat the new drive as part of the set. THIS IS BAD.

You must always erase a drive's partition header completely before adding it back in to a RAID set. Otherwise it's misidentified as being an up-to-date part of the RAID 1 set even though it may not have been updated in months.

I had thought that changes made to RAID handling in Snow Leopard might have fixed this problem. Nope.

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Owning versus controlling hardware

The Register recently wrote about how the latest firmware in Android phones tries to un-jailbreak them. Most smart phones contain built-in features to restrict the types of software they run. The built-in iPhone software restricts it to AT&T and to apps sold by Apple's own store. Blackberry and Android has similar restrictions."Jailbreaking" bypasses these protections to allow the phone's owner to install un-approved software. Android is fighting back in real time.

AT&T system logoSo the battle is on: who really controls a phone, or any other computer-based device? Most of us assume we control our personal computers. But phones are ambiguous. We want them to work reliably as phones, so we're willing to give up some control to the phone company. Back when US phones were an AT&T monopoly, we rented everything: from the network to the wiring to the indestructible desktop handsets.

On the other hand, we buy our cell phones. In AT&T's glory days, the Bell System never sold telephones, they only rented them. As owners, shouldn't we be able to choose the software to run, or the phone company to use?

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RAID on Snow Leopard

Apple Snow LeopardI had avoided upgrading to Snow Leopard for several months, and finally completed the upgrade a few weeks ago. It went mostly without trouble, though there were a few minor things that needed to be fixed.

However, I was greeted with "new and improved!" RAID support which, as usual, provides only the most terse of directions. I rely on mirrored RAID to construct off-site backups. When I went to apply my procedure to Snow Leopard, I had to figure out the difference between "Delete" and "Demote" in order to get my backups rebuilt.

[Here's a more recent post to address the disappearance of "Demote"]

 

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The electronic library debate continues

Cousin Jon emailed me David Pogues' recent blog on copyright, with an observation on digital libraries.

The science and technology world has an interesting analog to the paper vs electronic print music debate. In our world, the problem crops up with professional papers. My own attitude is clear: if I have the choice between downloading a free copy of someone's paper I find on-line, or purchasing a copy from the professional society, I grab the free copy.

Partly this is because the original author doesn't get a penny from publication sales. In many cases the author is lucky if the association prints the paper for free, without requiring "page charges." Another reason is that, in most cases, the paper is actually made available on-line by one or more of its authors.

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MS Word versus Framemaker

I've been using Framemaker to create large documents for almost two decades. I'm currently participating in an email discussion group of Frame users, and someone asked about comparing Microsoft Word and Frame. Someone else suggested Googling for the answer, since lots of people like to talk about it.

So, here is my own contribution to the question.

 

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