Sunday, March 23, 2008

Backup bacteria

There is an argument that says it is unethical to run a Windows machine without an antivirus, even though the threat to yourself is relatively low. Namely, herd immunity works for computer too. You should install the Free software ClamWin.

If you are worried about viruses, you should backup your data. Your data is a valuable thing indeed, and viruses is only one of the many ways it could be damaged. In the last year, I've had two friends lose their data when their external hard drive was stolen along with their computer, and my brother lost megabytes of notes when he accidentally overwrote an important folder.

I tried dozens of backup software before making this post. There is so much awfulness out there, for such a basic function, it's unbelievable. Backup, it's simple, how hard I can it be?

Here are my recommendations. Normal people will want Mozy. It is click-install-and-forget. It does off-site backups, so you are protected against the house burning down. It might not be open-source software, but it's free up to 2 GB. Moreover, at $60 a year for unlimited space, Mozy is the cheapest disc space you can rent.

If you have objections against safeguarding your data on somebody else's computer, try SyncBack. After some fiddling and tweaking it will do an OK job. Necessary trick #1, configure four backup schedules : daily, weekly, twice weekly, and monthly, each with a different destination directory. This way your backup contains four different versions, and you can revert to a good copy of your files ever becomes corrupted. Trick #2, buy two external hard drives and leave the second one at your mom's. Then, each time you go visit her, exchange the two drives. Your off-site enclosure becomes the bedroom one, and your bedroom one becomes the off-site one. Just ensure you switch them with some regularity, otherwise you are vulnerable to thieves and firemen.

Finally, geeks will want rdiff-backup. It is the only open source software I know that does incremental backups with byte-level diffs for both transport and storage.

Update, Nov 09, 2008

A full bitwise system copy done in hardware. Best solution, but somewhat expensive. If you are serious about off-site backups, you will need two.

A really cool combo consisting of online backup space + collaboration sharing + web sharing. Slightly more expensive than :

Online backup priced at 15 cents per gigabyte. Cheaper than if you need less than 33 gigabytes. Three-way portable Win, Mac, and Linux.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Journalist: Mr. Venter, with the experiments happening in your lab, do people say that you are playing God ?

Mr. Venter: oh... we are not playing.

Craig Venter and his lab successfully printed a bacterial chromosome and booted it. Soon, biology will develop a software engineering division where programmers compose the DNA code for a bacteria that consumes CO2 and produces fuel, thus solving global warming.

Creating an artificial life is a way to manipulate the world one atom at a time. It gives engineers access to many feats that seemed reserved to nature, such as spitting CO2 with a molecule-sized cleaver. We will invent our own chemical reactions and build our robots from the inside out, the same way our mother built us.

The promises of artificial life forms are the same as those of nanotechnology. It is shocking to see one arrive so far ahead on the schedule than the other. In comparison, nanotechnologists still get excited about building individual bearings. Apparently, the goo of the future will be green, not gray.

In his talk, Craig Venter suggests we start carbon sequestration efforts as soon as possible. In all likelihood, whichever technology we develop to turn CO2 into fuel, the process will work better at high concentrations of the gas. If, by then, we have large stores of CO2 underground, it will ease the transition to the new production.