Whoa, Backup There

October 13, 2017

Today, I’m going to preach unto you the gospel of a back-up strategy. (No, really, you want to read this, I promise.)

Here’s what happened:

I reached a writing milestone (I sent my daughter the first draft of Book 2). I thought, hey, how about I change up the file names and folders so they are consistent, and better reflect the series, rather than the random names I came up with before things were written. No problem. I’ve done this a bunch of times before.

Then. Something. Happened.

All. My. Work. Disappeared.


Now, I’ve been using computers, literally, since Ford was president. Want to know why I didn’t have a Major Freak-Out? Because I knew I had my stuff backed up. Not once. Not twice. But three times that come to mind. No, make that four. Maybe more.

The first back-up didn’t work. Ouch.

But I went to another in another place, and behold, my work was restored.

Here’s what you need to know about backing up: you want a 3-2-1 strategy (go ahead, click that link. I’ll be here when you get back). Basically, anything it would cause you pain to lose (photos, documents, the video of your wedding, that one pic you love of Spot when he was a puppy) you should have *three* copies of, *two* of which are local (like, in your home or office) but on *two* different devices (like, on your computer and on a Time Machine backup or an external hard drive). Plus, you should have *one* other copy off-site. Preferably, all this should be automated. Again, something like Time Machine for local backups, and a service like Backblaze (whose article I linked to) or Carbonite for off-site. The same goes for your phone. If you’re not backing up your phone, especially your photos, what happens when it goes kersplunk in that convenient bowl of water?*

Folks, you gotta do this. It’s not that hard or expensive, and doesn’t take that much time to put in place. I like you, and I don’t want you to feel pain. And there’s no pain quite like data loss that is preventable.

And if you’re the techy one, and you have all this handled, then who do you know that you can help out to put something like this in place? Your mom? Your grandpa? That nice Mrs Nelson who always gives you her spare squash?

Embrace the gospel of backing up. You’ll be glad you did (but you won’t know that until you need it and wish you had.)

(First published in my weekly email.)

Bitcoin Demystified

March 11, 2014

The March 7 episode of John Gruber’s podcast “The Talk Show,” has one of the clearest explanations of bitcoin that I’ve heard, thanks to his guest Glenn Fleishman. If you have any interest, or even curiosity in cryptocurrencies, this is well worth you time.

Why Apple Fights in the Courts

If you wonder why Apple fights hard in the courts to protect its intellectual property (including its designs), this comment on Slashdot by user Swampash linked to by The Loop holds a lot of the answer.

The Fender Stratocaster was released in 1954 and totally changed the then-new electric guitar market. You can look at well-known electric guitar designs like the Telecaster and the Les Paul and just SEE that they were created before the Stratocaster was released. And you can look at a metric fucktonne of electric guitar designs and just SEE that they were created AFTER the Stratocaster was released. There’s a clear point at which the “before Strat” electric guitar industry became the “after Strat” electric guitar industry. The shape of the Fender Stratocaster – influenced by pre-existing stringed instruments like the cello, but still new and unlike any electric guitar made before – became what electric guitars look like.

Fender did not pursue the Strat-clone manufacturers in court; and then after attempting to trademark the iconic Statocaster contours decades later, a court ruled in 2009 that “the body shapes were generic and that consumers do not solely associate these shapes with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation”. The ruling went so far as to say “in the case of the [Stratocaster] body outline, this configuration is so common that it is depicted as a generic electric guitar in a dictionary.” (bolds mine)

Apple ain’t making that mistake.

 No, they aren’t.
Tim Cook put it this way at the D10 Conference:

From our point of view, it’s important that Apple not be the developer for the world. We can’t take all of our energy and all of our care and finish the painting and have someone else put their name on it. The worst thing in the world that can happen to you if you’re an engineer and you’ve given your life for something is for someone to rip it off and put their name on it.

Cringely’s Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview

In 1995, Robert X. Cringely interviewed Steve Jobs for his documentary Triumph of the Nerds (Amazon). This was a time between the first Jobs era at Apple, which ended with him getting tossed out of the company, and the second era, which saw him rescue the company from oblivion and steer it toward becoming the world’s most successful. At the time, he was CEO of NeXT and Pixar, so it was an interesting point in his career. The interview was thought lost, but was recovered and is presented in full. The result is Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview (iTunes in the USA).

Don’t expect fancy. This is pretty much the raw footage shown in full. But it is Jobs being Jobs before he became the Jobs he became. Fascinating for those who like this kind of thing (which I do).

. . . . . .

Franken-meat lumbers toward us

You have to love an article that starts “This has been a bad year for Big Meat.” (from the Chicagoist).

This has been a bad year for Big Meat. The meat industry has lost in multiple court rulings over the public health threat stemming from the use of antibiotics in animal feed that threaten to upend the industry. And they have been brutalized in the court of public opinion over pink slime.

But, if two researchers are right, it’s about to get much, much worse…

First, I’m a vegan, and I have no need for a meat simulacrum. But I know there are those who miss it. Second, this kind of technology worries me. But if it decreases the suffering on the planet, then it has to be a good thing, I guess. Third, good luck getting past the “yuck” factor.

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Photo credit:  Gajda-13 at da.wikipedia

Steve Jobs’ Long-Time Liberal Arts Focus

Steve Jobs Introducing the iPad

Steve Jobs Introducing the iPad in 2010

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in 2010, he famously invoked the idea of liberal arts, saying:

“The reason that Apple is able to create products like iPad is because we always try to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts, to be able to get the best of both.”

So it was interesting to hear the 1996 interview he did with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air (replayed in honour of his passing), where the idea of liberal arts features so strongly.

“In my perspective … science and computer science is a liberal art, it’s something everyone should know how to use, at least, and harness in their life. It’s not something that should be relegated to 5 percent of the population over in the corner. It’s something that everybody should be exposed to and everyone should have mastery of to some extent, and that’s how we viewed computation and these computation devices.”


“I think our major contribution [to computing] was in bringing a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers. If you really look at the ease of use of the Macintosh, the driving motivation behind that was to bring not only ease of use to people — so that many, many more people could use computers for nontraditional things at that time — but it was to bring beautiful fonts and typography to people, it was to bring graphics to people … so that they could see beautiful photographs, or pictures, or artwork, et cetera … to help them communicate. … Our goal was to bring a liberal arts perspective and a liberal arts audience to what had traditionally been a very geeky technology and a very geeky audience.”

Interesting how the liberal arts orientation was something he carried with him for decades.

Also interesting how he had to fight for the mouse, and how a bottom-up approach for ideas was encouraged.

This talk was recorded while he was still at NeXT, although much of the discussion covers Apple.  He was yet to return to the company and start the long process of turning it around.

Worth a listen, which you can do here:

[audio:http://pd.npr.org/anon.npr-mp3/npr/fa/2011/10/20111006_fa_02.mp3|titles=NPR Fresh Air: Steve Jobs Interviewed in 1996 by Terry Gross]

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 Photo credit: mattbuchanan


The Closest I Ever Got to Steve Jobs

October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs (circa 1981)

Steve Jobs, from around the time I saw him in 1981. (Image from nymag.com)

I find myself deeply saddened at the news of Steve Jobs’ passing. Yes, we knew he had been unwell, but the shock and the depth of feeling have taken me by surprise.  Not since I heard of John Lennon’s death have I felt this way about someone I did not know personally.

My life has been marked by Steve Jobs, his Apple company, and its products.

It started in 1979, when I found a part-time summer job working for a hole-in-the-wall, seat-of-the-pants store in Austin, Texas called Computer ‘n Things. It was the smaller, scrappier competitor to the Computerland a few miles away.

Computer ‘n Things was a “microcomputer” retailer, selling mostly Apple II’s (and its software and peripherals), along with a few other brands like Cromemco and Altair. But mainly it was Apple, and I came across it looking for a summer programming job, having just finished a course in Basic at UT Austin.

It’s owner and manager, Charley Randall, answered the phone when I cold-called. In response to asking if he needed a programmer, he said, “We don’t need that at the moment.”

Me: “What do you need?”

Randall: “Someone for sales.”

Me: “What do you need in a salesman?”

Randall: “Someone who will work for straight commission.”

Me: “OK.”

At the job interview, while Randall conferred with his brother about whether or not to take me on, I sat in the front of the shop watching an Apple II draw geometric patterns on a TV being used as a monitor.  I did something to the keyboard and promptly crashed the program that was running. Oops.

Not the most graceful start to my life with Apple. But a start it was.

That summer job turned into two years part-time, then full time.  I learned how not to crash the Apple. I learned enough about a program called Visicalc (a new thing called a “spreadsheet”) to sell Apples to people who might be able to do something with them. I learned to load programs from cassette tapes. We played Space Invaders and Bill Budge’s Pinball game.

I learned how you could often fix one using what my boss called “percussive maintenance” – banging it on a table to reseat the integrated circuits.

I remember the Apple III, and what a disappointment it was to get it out of the package and have it not work because components had popped out of their sockets during transport.

But the Apple II+ sold really well, and made a lot of people more productive, especially when we were able to make the jump from cassettes to 5 1/4” floppies (and two of them, if you could afford them).

Somewhere around the first half of 1981, Randall and I went to a retailers’ conference put on by our distributor High Technology. I don’t remember if I shook his hand, but I definitely remember Steve Jobs was there, talking to us about his company and his products.

There’s one thing Steve Jobs said that has stayed with me in the three decades since. He said, “Apple Computer makes more mistakes than anyone else in the business.”

The point was they were willing to try things, to innovate. They were willing for what they tried to fail. And they were capable of learning from those mistakes, and improving.

I left Computer ‘n Things in June of 1981. One of our customers at the time was a guy who worked for IBM, and he had mentioned that his company was just about to bring out a personal computer as well. So I wasn’t around for the release of the IBM PC in August 1981, or the way the PC, the XT, the AT and later models ate Apple’s lunch.

But still, my heart was with Apple. When I returned to the USA in 1983 from a couple of years in Germany, Randall cut me a deal on an Apple IIe.  That machine got me through grad school, and when I moved to Australia to be with my wife in 1987, that IIe came with me, and became the first computer she ever touched. (It is still in my garage somewhere, although the power supply is long dead.)

Our Apple IIe was eventually replaced by a Mac SE/30, which lasted eight years or so (and probably would still boot if we plugged it in).

And while I had a few IBM PCs along the way (mainly because I needed them for work, and mainly during the time that Steve was away from Apple), I always came back to the Mac.  Our family has had any number of the machines. My wife has had a series of Macbook Pros. I had a Mac Pro that lasted six years, and since, a couple of iMacs. My daughter uses a white Macbook. We all have iPhones. We all have iPods. When I get a tablet, it probably will be an iPad 3.

You get the picture.

So Steve, all I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you for your part in my life. Thank you for the products you brought to the world, for your vision, for your inspiration, for your attention to detail, and for your tenacity.

My life is the better for them.

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs.

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Image source: nymag.com