rsnapshot is good software. It's a simple Unix backup program that gives you historical snapshots, sort of a low rent NetApp in free software. I now have views of my files from four hours ago, and one day ago, and one week ago, and... Having multiple versions protects you from the "I deleted some important files two days ago" problem. Behind the scenes it's doing rsync and hard links to keep the size reasonably efficient. What I like best about rsnapshot is that it's very professionally produced and was easy to set up on my Debian box.

I don't understand how anyone backs their machines up anymore. Disk is fifty cents a gigabyte. I have something like 200 gigs of data in my house and I didn't even try. Removable media sure isn't going to work to back it up: tape's too expensive and slow, CD and DVD are too small. So all I'm left to do is backup to other hard drives.

That doesn't help you if your house burns down. I'd love to backup over a network (rsnapshot supports this), but I don't have the bandwidth to even back up the 5 gigs that really matter. For now I'm also making copies to a USB drive that I store outside my house.

  2005-06-30 13:31 Z
I serve this blog from my home DSL (an increasingly dumb idea). My DSL went to hell at 11am today. Pinging from my house to the DSL gateway on the other end of the line is taking well over one second. No packet loss. It's not my router, either.

I've seen this slow link failure mode before, but never for this long and with no packet loss. Usually it's gone away on its own, a couple of times I've called for support and they "cleared the line" and things got better again. I wonder, does their router infrastructure go flaky or get overloaded? Do they monitor it?

I hate not being able to get real help. Their phone support is so far removed from an actual expert that I can't say things like "I monitor the ping time on the link and it's gone from 1ms to 1000ms". At least their support script did lead to them actually detecting the problem.

Argh, now my link is entirely dead. Man, is looking better and better.

  2005-06-30 03:12 Z
Google Sightseeing has a Gibraltar post today that's cool. Gibraltar is so small that the only road in crosses the airport's runway. The new satellite imagery is so fine grained that you can see cars waiting to cross the runway. Scroll far enough east, and you can see the plane they're waiting on. Who knew there'd be so much drama in satellite images?

  2005-06-28 18:44 Z
I like Joe Kraus' blog entry on hiring engineers, particularly the "do you have a blog" and "do you contribute to open source" questions. I love interviewing engineers with blogs or open source work because I can do a bit of research and have something meaningful and in depth to talk about.

His other question, "what's your home page", made me smile. Yes, I had a start page back in 1994, but I've long since stopped using it. I use MyWay these days, but my real start page is DQSD, the fastest way to do Google searches on Windows.

Joe quotes my friend Marc saying "Jedi Knights make their own lightsabers and great engineers make their own homepages." But remember how in the original Star Wars movies Yoda didn't have a light saber? That's because he was so kick ass, he didn't need one. about:blank is the start page for Yoda engineers.

Update: Marc says
I did tell Joe my "Jedis make their own lightsabers" theory, but not in reference to engineers making home pages (I use about:blank, myself). Instead it was in reference to the Excel team making their own C compiler, as mentioned in this Joel on Software piece. Joel's piece is well worth a read, and some of its points overlap Joe's good points on interviewing, to boot.
  2005-06-27 18:46 Z
I've been totally hooked on Battlefield 2, the new squad FPS. It's got great teamplay, aided in part by built-in voice over IP so you can talk to your teammates.

But adjusting the microphone so the gain is correct is a total pain. In addition to the in-game settings I've found at least three different audio control panels in Windows that affect it. The key is to ignore all of Creative's crap software, go to Settings / Control Panel / Sounds and Audio Devices, click the Voice tab, go to the Voice recording panel, click Volume, then boost the Microphone slider. If you click Advanced you can also set a +20dB boost which helps too. Basically turn up the gain in every setting in Windows, then use the in-game control (with feedback) to lower it back to a reasonable setting.

I bet this isn't so hard on MacOS.

  2005-06-27 00:04 Z
The packet sniffer ethereal is essential for reverse engineering applications and diagnosing network problems. But it's primarily an interactive tool with a GUI. I can't figure out a way to use the Ethereal packet analysis code as part of a program I write.

One hack is to store packet captures to disk, then use tethereal on the command line to dump what you're interested in to ASCII. Here's a quick and dirty way to print out all the URLs that were fetched:

tethereal -r foo.pcap -R http.request |
  sed 's/.*GET //; s/ .*$//'
Still, there's gotta be a better way to process pcap data with the high level analysis Ethereal does. ImPacket is an interesting alternative, but it seems orphaned.
  2005-06-25 18:01 Z
I had lunch at Aqua recently, lovely until the dessert. I ordered coffee mouse with "Havana cream". I expected something rum flavoured, but no, it was cigar flavoured. I'm open minded about that, but the flavour was unpleasant: peppery with a weird feeling in the throat. And I felt ill for the next few hours, presumably from the nicotine. Avoid.

Ken's the family chef. He's doing the low carb thing these days. One of the substitutes he makes is cauliflower rice; you put cauliflower in the food processor until it's rice sized, then saute it quickly in butter. It's delicious! You gotta love a diet where "saute in butter" is one of your main techniques.

Formal French table service includes a sauce spoon, a nearly-flat spoon with a notch in one side. (I grew up calling this a fish knife.) I thought I had it all figured out: you scoop up the sauce with it, put the spoon in your mouth, and enjoy the yumminess. So I did that on my last trip, and to my embarassment found my next two dishes were brought to me with actual spoons, not sauce spoons. Had I done something wrong? I think I was right.

  2005-06-24 15:25 Z
Here are some notes about some of the more memorable places we dined in France (in addition to the steak frites place). I'm not a food critic, so this may be boring, but maybe it'll be helpful for people looking for places to go in Paris or in the Southwest.

More inside ...

  2005-06-19 21:50 Z
I enjoy good wine and after several years learning about wine I think I know something about it. But I've gotten lazy and stopped taking notes about the wine I drink. It just seemed too much like work.

When we were in France we had a lot of great wine, mostly from the Southwest: Bergerac, Cahors, Languedoc... But since I don't know the wines there I can't remember what we had. The only wine I thought to write down was a Languedoc, a 1995 Domaine de La Grange des Pères that was fantastic. But specifically how was it fantastic? I can't tell you now.

Maybe my friend's is the solution. It's a web application for tracking your wine cellar and tasting notes. The views of your own cellar are nicely customed: "ready to drink", statistics, recommendations. A nicely detailed database of wines holds it all together. The site has a wine blog too. Now to get some discipline about keeping notes!

Inspired by this Ask Metafilter thread
  2005-06-16 14:30 Z
Ken and I are food tourists and we eat well in France. But sometimes we get tired of foie gras, delicate vegetables, and French menus (just what are St. Jacques' nuts? Mussels? Scallops? Clams?) When we get overwhelmed and want comfort food in Paris, Ken and I head to one of several steak-and-fries places.
Couldn't be simpler. You sit down and the waitress immediately hands you a little salad (walnuts, mustard dressing). No menu, just two questions. How do you want the steak cooked? A point. Do you want wine? Yes. (But get the wine list: the house red is awful.) The waitress swiftly comes back with a plate of delicious steak bathed in a yummy mustard and sage sauce, along with some perfect pommes frites. You eat your steak and fries, they bring you a second helping (kept warm over candles), and then it's on to dessert. Skip dessert.

The whole process is the opposite of the usual French temple-of-food experience. But it's very satisfying and, judging by all the Parisians we see there, quite popular with the locals. The restaurants are a franchise. We've been to Le Relais de l'Entrecôte in the 6th (20bis rue St. Benoit, conveniently a block from St. Germain de Prés) and Le Relais de Venise in the 17th (271 bd. Péreire). The joint in the 6th even has the same 1945 Cognac Rouyer poster I have at home!

Half the blogerati have been there too
  2005-06-15 15:26 Z
The PC version of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is out, and boy is it nice. It's just as great as the PS/2 version, only with beautiful graphics (and, alas, crappy controls).

But the best thing about the PC release is that it's open to modding. A bunch of mods are already out, including the Hot Coffee mod which restores a sexually explicit mini-game that the developers apparently took out at the last minute. See some screenshots to get the idea.

As the Guardian points out the sex is not particularly sexy. You gotta love a progress bar that says "Excitement". But it is consistent with the cartoonishness of GTA, and I think this is the first time a mainstream game has had explicit sex in it. It may be that the most shocking part isn't that the game depicts sex, it's that it depicts sex between a black man and a white woman.
  2005-06-14 15:32 Z
Hey there, I'm back from a nice little vacation to France. Paris, the Lot valley, Perigord. I actually got sick of eating foie gras and truffles: life's pretty good. But before I write up the fun stuff, here are some reasons to hate Air France:
  1. The cabin in their 747-400 from SFO to CDG is older than I am.
  2. Paris has two airports, who woulda thought? And if you miss your domestic flight because you're an idiot and went to CDG instead of ORY, Air France makes you buy full fare tickets to replace the flight you missed.
  3. They don't have proper gates at CDG, so you get to spend 30 minutes riding a bus all over the airfield to get to your plane.
  4. They lose one bus of passengers, it takes 30 minutes to find them.
  5. Only one of your two suitcases is on your flight.
Bah! But France was great, lots more to come. One quick suggestion: the Chateau de Mercues is fantastic if you want a relaxing country stay in the Lot, near Cahors.
  2005-06-12 23:07 Z