Friday, September 26, 2008

The shoemakers children ...

You know the saying, about how the ones who supposedly should know better, well, don't. I was recently reminded of this after a couple of my own experiences. I was having lunch with a friend of mine who owns so many domains that she did a lookup on what she thought was a great name only to find out that she actually already registered it. So let me also come clean here, and tell you how I can also be like this friend and mess up too. I know it may hurt, but supposedly confession can be good.

So my first tale is about how I almost lost the subscriber list for this newsletter that you are reading in your comfy inbox right now. Yes, I have all sorts of backup routines that I have developed because of what happened many years when my office was above a music store (and a Subway, boy do I miss that convenience). The store had an electrical short that caused a small fire. Just before the fire started, I had ducked out for a few minutes to run an errand, and by the time I came back the fire department had roped off the building. Luckily, nothing was damaged in my office, other than the front door that the firemen broke down to make sure that the fire hadn't spread upstairs. Now, I had been doing my backups on tape. Where were those tapes you might ask? Sitting right next to my server. Since then I have gotten offsite backup religion big time and make sure that one copy of everything is always somewhere other than my office.

Or so I thought. The one thing – and I hope it is the only thing – that I didn't have a current backup for is the actual list of my subscribers. Well, I had done one in March, but I really didn't want to go through the process of trying to update that.

My mail list server used to be located in a friend of a friend's house. Granted, this person is one of the original Internet Wise Men. But still, even the wisest of wise men have server crashes from time to time, and his server crashed last week, taking my list down for a week. That was all the motivation that I needed to start a new list on a "real" provider (I am using, which offers Mailman hosting for $4 a month for low volume lists. They seem to know what they are doing, they are usually reachable via email queries, and I don't have to learn yet another list server's quirks since I have been using Mailman for several years now.) And it is relatively simple to make backup copies of the entire subscriber list: all it takes is sending a single email command to the server and storing the reply. Which I now will do on a regular basis.

What both of these experiences have taught me was that no matter how I analyze my data backup and procedures, there is always room for improvement. You can't think of everything. And the key to backups is doing them regularly. Sort of like flossing your teeth, which I need to do more often too. But not just relying on the guilt generated from not doing them (in the case of my teeth, by my hygenist) but a regular procedure that can easily and quickly be implemented so that it doesn't get postponed because something else of higher priority comes along.

Next I want to tell you about my new iPhone. Yes, I know, I am a little slow to embrace this baby, no need to abuse me about it. The story is within about an hour of getting the thing, I was on it talking to my daughter for tech support. The shame, I know. She thought it was funny. But then I had another question shortly after that. And this is after spending hours reading all sorts of stuff about all the 57 different analysts and tech bloggers that are in love with their iPhones and have done all sorts of cool stuff with theirs. Welcome to 2008, Strom.

Finally is my thoughts about, my new screencast product reviews site. After putting together the first bunch of videos, I realize that the content sits on four servers: one where the actual videos reside, one that hosts the Web site proper, another one that has the RSS feed, another server back in my office that has the original copies of the videos. And this doesn't count the numerous other servers that repurpose the videos, too.

Do I really need such a complex system to deploy this service? Not really, it just grew into this, because I wanted to use the best tools from a variety of places. Yes, I could eliminate the server that delivers the RSS, but the one that comes with the Web site is pretty lame. I know this is often how many of you end up with unsupported systems, but at least I have documented where all the files are kept and the process by which I post a new one (and this is of course backed up in a few places, too.)

So I hope you have enjoyed these tales of torment. Have a nice weekend, and keep those backups safe.

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About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.