IMG_7924.JPGIt's a testament to Douglas Adams and my own inherent geekdom that I'm feeling this birthday more than I'm feeling my fortieth. It just seems as though 42 is a more momentous number than 40. It might also be the fact that I'm increasingly in need of bifocals these days.

It started gradually, but eventually I noticed that I was having difficulty focusing on small print, and that I'd been having difficulty for some weeks. These days, I'm finding that I have to take my glasses off in order to read the text on my iPhone.

It's frustrating. Still, as things go, I'll take this, and my greying hair, as my preferred signs of aging than, say, aching joints, though I suppose that this sort of thing will come later.

Otherwise, I can't complain. I continue to work at the field I love, and am surrounded by love and good company. My daughters provide me with much joy and frustration and, most of all, wonder. And maybe, fingers crossed, there is a chance that I'll be able to keep doing what I'm doing for years to come. I don't want to jinx things by saying it, but it seems that I've finally figured out what to be now that I've grown up. I can't ask for anything better.

In other news, I've handed in the final edits on three manuscripts -- non-fiction books about ecosystems for children. That brings my total number of titles with my name on the byline to 28. Really, I can't ask for anything better. Fingers crossed, more will come...

Yup. Pretty much this:

09262006(008).jpgEver since our computers were stolen, back in 2009, Erin and I have been adamant in our backups. As traumatic as it was having our bag swiped from our rental car while Nora slept, the cost of replacing the computers was largely picked up by our home insurance. The loss of data, however, was more keenly felt. Though we were (and are) Mac users, our home was in the midst of renovations, and our TimeCapsule hard drive had not been plugged in for the month previous. We lost several weeks worth of work. For Erin, this was almost 20,000 words of her novel, The Teleportation of Gilbert Perez, effectively killing it.

We got our backup regimen going, but we weren't satisfied with just an Apple TimeCapsule. What if, Erin noted, there was a fire, and our computers and the TimeCapsule were both destroyed. We're both writers, we live by this data. We needed to take steps and ensure that a copy of our data was physically outside of our house. So began our investigation of online backups and cloud storage services.

Storing data on the cloud is something that has really come into its own over the past five years. Back in 2009, I couldn't conceive having my data stored primarily off-site. I still feel the need to have my data be physically on my laptop's hard drive (I have iTunes Match, but I want the files to be on my iPhone, not downloaded as played over LTE), so on this I might be a bit of a luddite. However, it's clear to me that the future offered up by ChromeBooks is a realistic one: our laptops may become mere portals to access the cloud, and our data resides not there, but in someone else's hands. While I cannot let go of my own data, I can still see the benefit of having the data available wherever I happen to be, regardless of the computer I happen to use.

But I'm getting beyond myself. The ideal system for Erin and me is one which copies our data off our hard drives and syncs it up with a backup on a cloud server. Indeed, it would be good if all of our machines could be so synched, so that a copy of a story I'm writing on my own machine is updated on Erin's machine so that she can open it up and look at it when I ask her to edit. Any changes she makes is filtered through the cloud and ends up on my machine.

The bandwidth for such synchronizing would be immense, and costly back in 2009, but Rogers Cable has since given us a deal on unlimited bandwidth. This is good, because for a while there I was routinely pushing the 150Gb limits on our old service.

I've tried a number of systems: Mozy@Home, and SugarSync had the advantage of being free. As programs that were the main focus of the company that produced them, they seemed to do a decent job of doing the back-up. I found Mozy to be a little costly, however. SugarSync proved to be disturbingly slow. I didn't realize how good I had things, however, until I went to Microsoft's Skydrive (now known as OneDrive).

I decided to give Skydrive a try because I'd just purchased an Office 365 subscription, which allowed me to own current copies of Microsoft Office for the Mac for $10 per month. A 7Gb Skydrive account was included with the subscription. By this time, I was paying $50 to use SugarSync and I wasn't fully happy with their service. Why not switch to Microsoft and reduce the expense?

That decision was made back in June. Around the same time, Rogers came and gave me unlimited bandwidth for my Internet. And I admit that I might have gotten a little ambitious when it came to synchronizing our laptop data. Our documents drive was pushing 10Gb. And since we were synching our files on unlimited bandwidth, I thought: why not synchronize our photo albums too? All 55Gb worth?

Well, Microsoft didn't say that it couldn't do it. There was an inexpensive option for 100Gb of online storage for just $50. But the synchronization was as slow as mollasses on a January morning. And occasionally, the data transfer would jam -- that's the only word I can come up for it. The icon would be moving, and the status would be promising that it was updating, but nothing would happen. For hours at a time. Imports to my iPhoto library would take over a day to synchronize. And sometimes the synchronizing wouldn't take. When things take that long, the chances of two computers updating the same files increases, and that gives Microsoft a conniption. The second time it ended up blowing out my photo updates, I decided that the service just wasn't for me.

Enter Google Drive, which I'd flirted with long ago, but walked away from because I wasn't sure I wanted to change how I stored files on my laptop computer. You see, the big advantage of SugarSync and Mozy@Home is that you point to a directory on your hard drive, click some buttons that say "sync that", and off you go. Microsoft Skydrive will create a directory on your harddrive called Skydrive, or OneDrive, and sync all files you put into that directory. Google Drive does the same. However, the prospect of getting Microsoft synchronization for free eventually convinced me to make the switch, so my earlier objection to Google Drive was no longer valid. They also had a special on at the time, giving me a full Terabyte of storage space for $5 a month (it's since gone back to its regular price of $10 a month -- still quite a deal; you can also get 100Gb of storage for just $2 a month). I downloaded the program, set up the system, and put it to work.

Google Drive took about a week to store and sync roughly 100Gb worth of data across two computers (I can only assume that Rogers Cable is looking at my Internet usage and saying "what are they doing over there?!"). The synchronization appears to have gone pretty flawlessly. Now that the synchronization is complete, the system watches my hard drive and, whenever it detects a change, uploads the changes to the cloud. It feels responsive and pretty quick. Importing 150 photographs into iPhoto, for instance, alters as many as 2000 files in your photo database directory, and requires the upload of as much as 750 MB worth of data. Google Drive pushes through that in about half an hour, where as Microsoft OneDrive would have taken upwards of a day.

Overall, I'm satisfied. I'm not willing to trust the cloud completely and just leave my data up there, but the hybrid system I have now, with data on both personal computers and Google servers serves me well enough, I think. I can be confident that critical data won't get lost (at least, not easily).

What are your thoughts about cloud backups?

Monty-Python-God.png

On the Internet, I’ve hard a few reports that former Star Trek: Voyager star Kate Mulgrew would be lending her voice to a movie “documentary” that allegedly claims that the sun revolves around the Earth. The project strikes me as small, and that it has garnered any attention at all is likely due to the dissonance between an actress who played the woman who led a starship across the galaxy lending what credence she has to someone who clearly has a spectacularly ignorant (and defiantly ignorant) viewpoint. I strongly suspect that geeks, like me, who have read this report, are somewhat disappointed by Ms. Mulgrew.

There’s not much detail in this story. We don’t know why Ms. Mulgrew took on this assignment, if she believes in what she’ll be reading, or if she just needs the money. However, I can only shake my head in disbelief at the people who are actually backing this project with real money. You thought that the whole debate over evolution versus creationism was weird; how do you respond to people who wish to refute Copernicus?

You know, if one in four or one in five of Americans (a number that’s actually comparable to percentages seen throughout the world) still believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth, that in and of itself is not a terrible thing. It’s simple ignorance of a people that haven’t had a chance to learn about the truth, and for whom this truth doesn’t really have a big factor on their lives. Witness how Conan Doyle has Sherlock Holmes be surprised to learn that the Earth revolves around the Sun; in Moffat’s reboot, Holmes articulates why this isn’t so surprising, since his mind is fully focused on the cases he’s trying to solve, what room is there for cosmology (though I do like that Watson is able to point out, soon after, that one of his cases does turn on a point of cosmology)? On the other hand what kind of willful ignorance does it take to actively attack the real, solid, mathematical evidence that is out there? Who refuses to believe what astronauts have witnessed? Who continues to believe something so obviously wrong when technology today (like cellphones) depends upon the simple truth of the scientific universe in order to function?

As a Christian, I am sick and tired of being embarrassed by these ignoramuses. Indeed, I feel that God himself would be ashamed by these guys’ actions. I’d go as far as calling such defiant ignorance of the facts as downright sinful.

As a Christian. I believe in a creator of the universe. I know that’s not the coolest thing to believe among some of the people I know, but it is still my choice. It gives me comfort, and it forms a core of my being.

That said, I also believe that God gave us eyes to observe the universe, and a brain to interpret the results. The scientific method that most everybody in the rational world follows, whether they are Christian, Muslim, Jew or Atheist, is bullet proof. It observes. It assesses. It concludes. Whatever it can’t see directly, it still makes predictions that we can test. And it admits when it’s wrong.

In fact, being wrong is a good result, because it advances knowledge. It tells us that one theory about how the universe came to be is inaccurate, and it makes us to look elsewhere until we find the truth. By this process of elimination, the truth is revealed. Scientists who were Christians and Muslims and Jews and other faiths charted many of the scientific discoveries we now take for granted, from electromagnetism to evolution.

For us as religious people, we have to work with these truths. Turning away from the scientific method because we can’t understand it due to our limited education or, worse, because we don’t like the conclusions, is turning away from the rational universe — a universe that I believe was created by God, who set down the rules that scientists are now demarcating.

Indeed, to turn away from the scientific method is, in my opinion, a sin against God, because it forces us to misuse the eyes God gave us to observe, and it forces us not to use the rational minds God gave us to interpret the results.

The scientific method continues to produce answers which challenge our view of our lives, or our view of God. But truth often does this. It is our responsibility to conform our religious views to the rational facts of science, and not the other way around. To do otherwise is to embrace lies and sin.

(Update: Wednesday, 8:54 am): Ms Mulgrew has issued a statement, saying that she does not believe in the movie’s precepts. Indeed, she’s rather ticked at having been tricked into doing it in the first place.

Hmm… So the movie makers actively lied in order to peddle their ignorant untruths. Why am I not surprised?

Apropos of nothing, here’s a video clip of the cast and crew of Doctor Who, lip syncing to the Proclaimers, I Would Be (500 Miles):

I’ve been busy. Too busy to update this blog, I’m afraid, but I’m in a good mood. There’s a ‘whoop!’ that I have, but I can’t ‘whoop!’ it publicly, yet. In the meantime, I’ve finished up the manuscripts for three non-fiction books for kids, and more work for my real estate broker client. Erin and I have also done our taxes, which turned out to be not as bad as we were expecting, but not as good as we hoped, but we can’t complain.

Keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned for the ‘whoop’!

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