Strong opinions, weakly held

Month: February 2009 (page 1 of 4)

MacBook disaster recovery

A couple of weeks ago, I set a magnetic money clip on top of my MacBook, killing the hard drive pretty much instantly. It made a funny grinding noise, the beach ball spun, and that was it. The hard drive never had a chance.

Fortunately, I have been backing up my Mac regularly with Time Machine, and I had a backup that was only a week or so old. I do nearly all of my work in version control or in the browser, so the only thing I stood to lose was a few tracks I had purchased from the Amazon.com MP3 store.

All I had to do was replace the hard drive and restore the backup.

First, I had to buy a new hard drive. Hitachi’s 7200 RPM notebook hard drives are the most highly regarded, but they were out of stock at Amazon, so I bought a Western Digital 320 gig hard drive instead.

Installing the hard drive was easy. Macinstruct describes the process as challenging, but it took me less than 15 minutes.

I have two different Leopard DVDs, and I couldn’t get the MacBook to boot from either of them (I still don’t have any idea why). So I booted from the OS X 10.4 CD, formatted the new hard drive, and installed the OS. Then I booted from the Leopard DVD (again, I have no idea why it didn’t work before but it did work after) and upgraded to Leopard.

At that point, I realized that restoring from Time Machine was something you have to do after booting from the Leopard install DVD. So I rebooted from that DVD again, and restored the Time Machine backup.

When I rebooted after the restore was complete, the MacBook started rebooting over and over and over. It wouldn’t even boot into single user mode. So I rebooted from the Leopard DVD again and used the Disk Utility to repair the disk and the permissions. There were no disk issues, but there were a few file permission issues. It fixed those, but when I rebooted again, the reboot cycle started all over.

At that point I was at a bit of a loss. I thought the problem may be a corrupt operating system, so I booted from the Leopard DVD and reinstalled the OS in Archive and Install mode. That failed, complaining that it couldn’t copy my user directory.

I figured my last shot was just to install a fresh copy of Leopard and manually copy my files from the backup drive. Before I did that, though, I tried running a Time Machine restore again, and this time it worked, restoring my machine to the state it was in before I destroyed the hard drive in the first place.


Time Machine works, but not incredibly well. Life would have been easier if I’d had a backup created using Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. I could have booted from the backup drive and restored to the new hard drive.

Had the MacBook been my only computer, the whole ordeal would have been incredibly stressful. It took me several days to get the new hard drive, and the restoration process was abetted by having another computer next to me that I could use to look up answers to the questions I ran into.

If I had to depend on the laptop for my day to day work, I’m pretty sure I’d keep my Time Machine backup drive and add a second external hard drive to the mix with a disk exactly like the one in the computer. I’d run Time Machine full time (as I do now), and make a supplemental backup to the second external hard drive weekly with a full system backup utility. Then in a disaster scenario, I could just swap out the dead hard drive with the second backup drive and experience zero down time. Large laptop hard drives are less than $100, and you can get an enclosure for $20 or $30. That’s not a high price for insurance.

On addressing criticism

I liked this from Glenn Greenwald:

Adversarial challenges to one’s statements are a vital check on errors and deceit. Clashes of ideas are an irreplaceable instrument for truth-finding. Shielding oneself from such challenges (or just ignoring them) is not only irresponsible and cowardly, but ensures that one can opine without accountability. That’s why bloggers who have an active, smart and critical comment section with which they interact have a major advantage over journalists who hide from critical scrutiny. In all of this, it’s reasonable to exercise some discretion — not all criticisms and/or critics merit attention — but those who avoid any real challenges to their statements (whether politicians, journalists, or pundits) ought to be stigmatized for doing so, and it ought to be viewed as a powerful indictment against their credibility (Ambinder’s post will prompt me to resume efforts to invite onto Salon Radio those who are criticized here and to make note of those who refuse).

The Ruby book market

Joe Gregorio prompted me to take a second look at O’Reilly’s “state of the market” report for books on programming languages. Of particular interest to me is what they report on Ruby:

We reported last year that Ruby had grown nicely, had passed Perl and Python, and was knocking on the door for Visual Basic’s spot. However, Ruby had the largest decrease in unit sales in 2008.

Let’s go to the numbers, 95,731 Ruby books were sold in 2007, and 61,171 Ruby books were sold in 2008. That’s a big drop. In terms of absolute size, in 2007, the Ruby book market was about 40% of the size of the Java and C# markets. In 2008, Ruby’s market was about 28% of the size of the Java market, and 22% of the size of the C# market. (Python has almost caught up with Ruby.)

Some thoughts on possible reasons why Ruby fell off so sharply:

  • Deployment problems. The Rails deployment picture did not improve quickly enough to enable people who were dabbling with Ruby to make the transition to deploy real applications. That could be lowering interest in Ruby. I think 2009 will be the year of Ruby deployment — Phusion Passenger changes everything.
  • Lack of new bestsellers. Speaking for myself, I bought several Ruby and Rails related books in 2007, and none in 2008. There just weren’t any titles that really caught my attention.
  • Fragmentation. It seems like 2008 was the year in which there was a lot of splintering in the Rails community, and for good or ill, Ruby and Rails are still tightly coupled. People were trying new test frameworks, alternative persistence frameworks, and alternative Web frameworks. This hurts the book business.
  • Declining interest in Ruby in general. There are any number of reasons why interest in Ruby (and more specifically, Ruby on Rails) may be declining. For one thing, no platform can be the “new hotness” forever. For another, there are plenty of things not to like about Rails, the rate of change not being least among them. My feeling is that it’s nearly impossible to keep up with what’s going on in Rails unless you make a full time job of it. Fatigue sets in.

There may be other reasons as well. I would also caution people a bit against assuming too tight a correlation between book sales and the overall health of a programming language. It’s a piece of the picture but not the whole picture.

The other thing I take away from this is that it’s hard to see beyond your cocoon. From where I sit, the large growth in C# book sales is surprising. I don’t really know anybody who uses it. I’m not surprised by the Python growth, and I am shocked by the decline in the market for JavaScript books. This is one of the reasons why I’m looking to expand the portfolio of software development blogs and news sources I’m following.

The first Obama budget

Andrew Leonard on today’s budget announcement:

The size, goals, and funding strategies for the new budget ensure a political battle of monstrous proportions. And in retrospect, it clarifies the Obama administration’s strategy on the stimulus package. Suppose the administration had pushed for a much bigger stimulus package, along the lines of what some progressives were arguing for. Many progressives actively wanted to provoke a Republican filibuster, as a show of strength and an opportunity to shame the GOP publicly as obstructionists. But why provoke that kind of fight in your first weeks of office, if what you’ve got in your back pocket is a budget proposal bigger, more expensive, and more fundamentally transformative of the United States’ economy than anything proposed by a Democrat or Republican since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society?

The White House was saving its bullets for the real fight. And it is on.

Update: Robert Reich on Obama’s budget:

President Obama‚Äôs new budget is, well, audacious — not just because it includes several big, audacious initiatives (universally affordable health care, and a cap-and-trade system for coping with global warming, for starters) but also because it represents the biggest redistribution of income from the wealthy to the middle class and poor this nation has seen in more than forty years.

Called to public service

Carl Malamud is actively campaigning to be appointed to head the Government Printing Office, and has described exactly what he intends to accomplish if appointed to that position. Not only does Malamud’s plan sound great, but he’s also got the track record that shows he can be very effective in this position. Seems like a no brainer to me.

Links from February 25th

Toward earnestness

Roger Ebert takes a stand against snark:

Snarking is cultural vandalism. I have arrived at this conclusion belatedly. I have been guilty of snarking, and of enjoying snarks. In the matter of snarking, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But it has grown entirely out of hand. It is time to put away childish things. I must restore my balance, view the world in a fair way, hope to inspire more appreciation than ridicule. No doubt there will always be a role for snarking, given the proper target and an appropriate venue, and I reserve the right to snark when it is deserved, as in certain movie reviews. But in general I must become more well-behaved.

I see snark as dismissing people or things on the basis of style rather than engaging on matters of substance, and I’m just as guilty of it as anyone. Last night’s speech by Bobby Jindal is a perfect example. The instant reaction on the Internet was that it was the “Kenneth the Page” speech (referring to the character on 30 Rock). But the atrociousness of the delivery aside, the text of the speech was even worse. And it’s more important to confront that than it is to dismiss Jindal for giving a bad speech.

Ebert’s post on snark comes on the heels of John Hodgman’s attack on “meh” on Twitter. I think Hodgman would say that “meh” is for people too lazy to snark.

I wonder if the seriousness of the times are leading to a rejection of the flip and dismissive. It could also be that a new President sets a new tone. Barack Obama is consistently earnest, and I wonder whether he’s leading people to generally take things more seriously. I’ll be interested to see whether this trend expands.

Correlating the stock market with economic policy

Actual financier Paul Kedrosky posts at the Daily Beast, examining the argument that the stock market hates Obama’s economic policy:

But all of this is beside the point: The Barnes/Hannity market model isn’t how stock markets work anyway. Markets are, in the short run, a random walk, right up there with Brownian motion of molecules in a coffee cup. To the extent they even do anything semi-predictably, however, they rise on the rumor, and fall on the news. In other words, far from being surprised that two major and widely anticipated Obama announcements saw market declines, a more intelligent take is that things played out pretty much as expected. Saying otherwise is plain dumb, or maybe simply being grotesque and cynical.

New houses for the Slumdogs kids

Good news: the producers of Slumdog Millionaire are furnishing the child stars of the movie with new homes and transportation to school every day. That’s great news after last month’s story about the brutal conditions that they faced.

Sell optimism

One line I see repeated a lot lately by Obama detractors is that he’s causing the stock market to tank by talking about economic catastrophe and talking about the tough times ahead. These people apparently miss the Bush days when our President’s outward stance was that he was oblivious to the real world we all live in, steadily projecting optimism in such a way that made him look detached and clueless.

In recent weeks we’ve learned that Japan’s economy is shrinking rapidly. AIG is going to report a $60 billion loss on Monday and will have to get more government loans or file for bankruptcy. California home prices are down to 2002 levels and falling.

Nassim Taleb says the current financial crisis is worse than the 1930s. George Soros says we’re nowhere near the bottom. Nouriel Roubini says the same. Alan Greenspan says we need to nationalize banks.

Given the amount of legitimate bad news that we’re seeing every day, I find it difficult to believe that investors are discouraged by President Obama. I think the desire to blame Obama (or others) for insufficient optimism is denial. How bad will the economy get? I don’t think anyone really knows, but it strikes me as foolish to err on the side of optimism at this point, and I certainly don’t want our elected leaders to downplay the crisis in a false attempt to get people to deny the reality around them.

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