Epic snow breaker, backups and more

Let’s get the day started off right and watch Canadian National Railway locomotive 2304 plow through deep snow near Salisbury, New Brunswick. You’ll definitely want to put this on HD if you can, just for the fun of it.

Only the first minute or so is taken up with the footage of the train breaking trail; the rest is simply the freight cars passing by. This is one of those things that North Americans take for granted and western Europeans are amazed by—trains that are so long they require several minutes to pass.


In other news, tech blogger Adam Engst proposed that yesterday—Friday the 13th—be designated International Verify Your Backups Day. He brings up an excellent point, which is that most people who have backups set them up once and then forget about them. Until something goes wrong, of course, and then they finally check their backups, find corrupted files, and watch a bad day get even worse.

Backups are great insurance, but they are not impervious to the issues that affect digital files. The software can have a hitch. The connection might be bad. The original file might get corrupted and then you’re backing up bad files one over the other. Anything can happen, and if you never verify your backup, you’ll never know until it’s too late.

Here’s a perfect example from the comments section:

I got hired as IT manager of a small company with 5 stores. Each store had rotating backups on 3 hard drives, one was kept offsite at all times.

So the day after I was hired, the main server drive crashed…I went to the backup drive, it was formatted FAT32, which has a max file size of 2Gb. The backup files were about 12Gb, so only the first 2 gigs were recorded. Every backup of every drive in the company was corrupt, due to incompetent setup. Nobody ever tested this for the 2 years the backup scheme was in place.

To make a long story short, they had to send the drive to a disk recovery company. Cost: $4000.

It was a great system—multiple, rotating backups with one offsite—except for the minor issue of being broken from the very beginning.

It’s easy to verify a backup: just randomly restore some files from different directories. Open them up and make sure they work. Hit all the main media types: a document, a music file, a photo, a video. If you’re like me and you make an entire bootable clone as a backup, then every now and then boot your computer off the clone. Launch a few of the apps and open some files.

Yes, it’s a minor pain, but it only takes a few minutes. And you will thank yourself if you verify your backup and find that it has problems. Because at this point, you can fix it. When your hard drive has failed and you have zero access to your original files, it’s far too late.


For type and font geeks, Frere-Jones is running a series of posts on the art of creating a typeface—an art which most of us take for granted without realizing just how much science, math, and general tweaking goes into it.

For example, lining up letters mathematically doesn’t work, because what counts is what our eyes see, and our eyes see straight lines and curved lines differently. If the O below was the same height as the letters to either side of it, our eyes would perceive it as being smaller. For us to see it as the same size, it must be taller. This is called overshoot.

Font overshoot

Typeface mechanics is full of such counterintuitive details, and they’re fascinating. Check out Frere-Jones for the first post in this series, and stay tuned for more.


And finally: It’s Carnaval time! Yesterday was the first day of festivities, when the kids get to have their own parade. I drove through town on an errand and had to stop to let thirty kids cross the street, all wearing matching outfits of dark green pants, red shirts (the colors of the Portuguese flag), and big, curly, bright yellow wigs. It was beyond cute.

Today is the first of the adult parades, which will feature topless women dancing madly—and in what I’ve come to see as tradition, the weather is cold. I think those women dance so frenetically because they’ll turn blue otherwise. Ironically, yesterday was sunny and warm. At least the kids got to stay toasty.

This is also the time when my little town more than doubles in size, and driving anywhere requires a certain level of masochism (or insanity).

I think we’ll walk downtown for lunch and check out all the crazies.


About Fletcher DeLancey

Socialist heathen and Mac-using author of the Chronicles of Alsea, who enjoys pondering science, politics, well-honed satire (though sarcastic humor can work, too) and all things geeky.
This entry was posted in life, Portugal, tech. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Epic snow breaker, backups and more

  1. Alma says:

    Yes, but how do you “boot your computer off the clone”?
    That typeface blog is awesome. Must try to remember to check it out for updates!

  2. oregon expat says:

    There are two ways.

    1) On your computer, open System Preferences/Startup Disk. You’ll see your external drive listed there (assuming it’s plugged in, of course). Select it and click Restart. Voila, you are now booting off your external drive.

    2) If your computer is turned off, you can boot right off the external drive by hitting the power button just like normal, waiting until you hear the Mac start-up chime, and then holding down the Alt/Option key. You will need to keep the key pressed for several seconds until you see your Mac boot into a different screen (which is actually a built-in utility called the Startup Manager). This screen lists all of your available startup drives. Select the one you want and then hit Enter/Return.

    Note that booting off an external drive will take muuuuuch longer than booting off your internal drive — especially if your internal drive is an SSD and you’re used to 6-second boots. Go make a cup of tea.

    One thing that is always good to check on a bootable clone is your network connection. You can do that by opening a browser and doing a quick search for something. If it works, then you know all of the network settings are fine.

  3. Ana_ñ says:

    Thank you for the good advice! After reading this post, I decided that it was about time to add a bootable clone to Time Machine. My external hard drive is a few years old, so I have bought another one. As is big enough, I split it into two partitions, one for a second Time Machine, rotating with the old one (until it lasts), and another for a bootable clone. I’m using the trial version of Carbon Copy Cloner and everything seems to work fine. Would you recommend a different application for this task? Or perhaps a different approach for the whole thing?

    As for the typeface, I find fascinating how designers play with optical illusions.

    • oregon expat says:

      I personally use SuperDuper! for boot cloning, but Carbon Copy Cloner gets great reviews, so I don’t think you can go wrong with it. Your setup sounds fine, though if you want to go the extra kilometer (and I do, because I’m paranoid), you can also save your most important files somewhere off site. I used to keep a spare external drive in my office at work, but these days I back up the critical stuff to the cloud. If my town gets wiped out by an asteroid, at least my data will be safe!

      • Ana_ñ says:

        Well, fire, robbery or any kind of accident can happen, and I already backup the most important stuff to the cloud, but not all the things I would miss if they were lost. I’m not ready yet for all the geekery you explained once in a very comprehensive post about cloud storage, but I plan to get at it someday before the big asteroid crashes. 🙂
        Thanks again for the great tips.

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