Google Backup Trials and Tribulations

Like many others, I’ve switched from using a dedicated camera to using my smartphone over the past five years or so. This is especially handy when traveling, since you can get by pretty well without needing to pack a camera and associated gear. The picture quality on phone cameras has come a long way!

I’ve always been an Android user, and for the past few years I’ve been taking advantage of having all the pictures/videos on my phone automatically backed up to google drive. This has been a lifesaver when a phone suddenly dies (thanks not-so-waterproof-bag in Thailand!) – the worst case is you lost whatever pictures/videos were on the phone since last backup. This usually means, the last time you were on wifi.

But, something that has been bugging me is that a huge percentage of my pictures are “in the cloud,” with the attendant risks. No, I don’t suppose google is likely to lose my pictures – but I’m pretty risk-averse with these kinds of things and I don’t like being held hostage by a provider. What works well now could suddenly be a problem if Google suddenly decided to change their policies…

So, I’ve been meaning to back up all these images to a backup system I control, that is not in the cloud. Google has something called google takeout that allows you to export data from many of their services. You choose the data you want, and start an export. After a while Google tells you it’s ready and you download it.

The problem is the amount of data. My export is something like 180GB. That’s not such a problem to store these days – the issue is the download. Google only keeps the export files around for short period of time. Our internet connection is not super fast. And it doesn’t help that the download links lose their session quite quickly – meaning you have to keep logging in… And then Windows has a tendency to kill the downloads when the laptop goes to sleep – sometimes.

As a result I’m on my second run of trying to grab this data in eighteen 10GB zip files. This is a pain, and it’s not going to be particular easy to repeat and get only the changed data.

In addition, the files you get include a directory for reach date a picture/video was taken. Sometimes more than one. Inside that directory there’s a mess of files, including a json metadata file. Organizing this is not fun.

There may be some way to use an API to make this a better process, but the last thing I feel like doing is mucking around with yet another API and writing code…

Well, if I come across better options, I’ll write it up here!

The More Things Change…

It’s been well over a year since I switched back to Windows from mac. Still not regretting, but it’s a little disappointing to see all those old rough edges still there in Windows.

For example, when I close the screen on my laptop… who knows what will happen? Usually it will sleep. Sometimes it’ll shut down. Sometimes it’ll go into some sort of weird half-shut down where it doesn’t really boot up, but all my apps have crashed….

Dealing with printers is just as fun as ever. We have a nice new Epson, and when I tried to print… nothing. Restarting the print spooler service fixed it, so not a big deal – but there’s no way my parents would’ve thought to do that.

Skype is especially weird. Sometimes it’ll just not automatically scroll to show new messages. Whether I get notifications seems to be basically random. Yesterday for some reason every time I used ctrl+v to paste – it’d paste the contents of the clipboard twice… wtf? Restarting fixed it. Skype worked perfectly well back before MS took it over – why mess with it? Tpyical.

All in al I’m still pretty happy with it, especially considering the price/performance vs a new macbook. But c’mon Microsoft, you can do better.

I know this stuff is not easy… but I think there’s often pressure to develop new “features” that are just unnecessary – but that’s a post for another day.

Tech and Terminology and Political Correctness

I usually don’t post anything too political on my blog – that old saying about politics and religion is a very wise one – but I thought I’d weigh in on a debate going on in the tech world regarding some of the terms we use, and whether they should continue to be used.

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and associated protests and turmoil, a lot of attention has been put on many terms and symbols that are perceived as carrying racist overtones or baggage.

To be absolutely clear, I complete support black lives matter and think the vast majority of these protests are completely acceptable and necessary. This country has a lot of things to issues and racial problems are part and parcel of our history and the texture of this country. Segregation only ended in my parent’s lifetime – and we finally got gay marriage only very, very recently. And I’ve always wondered why we would have statues and military bases named after literal rebels and traitors.

In the tech world there’s a lot of discussion about changing some terms that we use – such as blacklist/whitelist and master/slave. For blacklist/whitelist I think changing it to something allow/block list or something along those lines makes a lot of sense. Think about it, I don’t think the term itself is overtly racist – however the negative/positive associated with black/white is problematic. More importantly, these are not clear terms! Allow/Block is far clearer, in my opinion.

Master/Slave is another pretty problematic term. It is descriptive of the relationship, however in most of the world the idea of a “master” will construe as white and “slave” as non-white. That’s just the reality of the world. Yes, I know there have been all kinds of slavery throughout history, some with racial overtones and much without. I was a history major! But that’s irrelevant – what matters is what makes sense to the majority of people alive now. I’d suggest something more like Source/Duplicate, or Original/Duplicate, etc. I think that still describes the relationship well, at least for a database setup…

But with Master Branch (i.e. in git) I’m not sure there’s the same racial overtones. For one thing, we don’t call other branches “slave” branches, and if we did it wouldn’t really capture the relationship well at all. A branch off master is not “controlled” or “dominated” by the master in any way, typically. Honestly, something like “trunk/branch” might make more sense, but a lot of this depends on how you use git. I just don’t see this as a problem as bad as say the “master/slave” terms!

Likewise, Master Repository has the same issues as above. What’s really being described is more like “original” versus “branch” or “derivative” etc. It doesn’t seem like that much of a problem – but it shouldn’t be hard to find a less controversial term that also accurately describes the relationship.

I guess I’m generally in favor or trying to change usage of these terms – as long as another term can be found that describes the relationship at least as well. But I also think that like most things they’re on a spectrum from more “racist” (black/white list) to less.

But, another aspect of this whole controversy should be kept in mind – arguably the organizations who are making these changes to their terminology could be helping things a lot more by becoming diverse and inclusive workplaces. I’m not saying that they’re not! But I am saying that we shouldn’t let this little debate over terms distract from more meaningful changes.

Happy Memorial Day?

It’s the time of year where we’re supposed to remember all the sacrifices made by our armed forces. But we’re also in the midst of a great debate about relaxing efforts to contain the pandemic.

I certainly do not want to downplay the losses and suffering of our veterans – but I’m also infuriated by efforts to downplay this pandemic.

So let’s look at some stats. Here is where I’m getting my numbers for the pandemic – 98,034 as of this writing. And I’ll be referring to the military death totals listed here.

So, all provisos about the pandemic numbers aside (I think they’re probably under-reported) – more Americans have died from COVID-19 than Vietnam (58,029). Think about that. Vietnam took place over a decade or so (depending on how you wan to track it). Think about the chaos and disruption that caused, and who knows what costs to our country for the veterans and their families. We’re about three months into the pandemic at this point… And I’ll bet you an N95 mask that a good number of our Vietnam vets have been taken by the coronavirus.

And, we’re approaching the number killed in the first World War. God forbid we surpass WWII or (horrors) the Civil War.

Here’s another interesting thing to think about. According to this site, almost 7,000 Americans have died in the war on terror, plus about 3000 who died in 9/11 – for a total of 10,000. That’s about 1/10th of the number who have died from COVID-19. Now, consider how much has been spent on our war on terror. Something on the order of 5 trillion dollars (source). I am not saying that we should have not spent that money, or fought those wars. That’s irrelevant to this. My point is, we really need to think about our priorities. I didn’t bother trying to track down what the US spends on research/prevention for pandemics, I’m sure it’ll be depressing.

So, the next time you hear someone try to downplay this pandemic – ask yourself, when’s the last time you lived through a couple Vietnam war’s worth of dead Americans? In three months.

Please stay at home! I don’t care what your state decides to do. Stay home. I think it’s only going to get worse.

May you live in interesting times.

The End of an Era?

Yesterday I pulled the trigger on a new laptop. For the first time in about a decade, I’ll be using Windows again.

I’ve used Macs for work for most of my career – even going back to the bad old pre-OSX days.

I’m writing this on an early 2013 macbook pro. It’s still decent, but starting to show its age. Battery life is crap. It seems to run hot all the time. And I’m starting to run into cases where I need to upgrade Mac OS to update various software that I use. I’ve always gotten burned when I do Mac OS updates, so I’m always resistant to that. Very little benefit for much risk in my opinion.So, I need a new laptop. But I quickly ruled out another mac:

  • The new macbooks are crazy overpriced, as usual for Apple. I don’t think the quality is there any more.
  • I cannot stand the new keyboards, even if Apple can or has fixed the huge reliability issues.
  • The touchbar thing is simple stupid. Lose a perfectly good and useful set of keys for something that breaks, uses more power and is just pointless.

So, back to windows. And quite likely Linux, either as dual-boot, or something. We’ll see! I picked a nice ultrabook with a similar form factor to the latest macbook pros. My plan is to experiment with the new linux stuff in windows – and if that’s not up to par I’ll just set up a VM running linux for work – or dual boot.

Wonder if there will ever be another mac in my future… doesn’t look promising right now.

My Completely Unnecessary Magento Imagine Guide

That’s right, I’ve decided to post my own guide to Magento Imagine. By my calculations, I will have been to half of the Imagine conferences this year. So, I suppose, I’m half of an expert! So half of what I say below is probably garbage 😃 I’ve also been to a few other Magento events over the years, all over the world.

The Tips

1st night party, 2018

I covered my packing tips below, these are intended to be helpful once you get there

  • Maps – the Wynn is huge, make sure you have a map – paper or digital – handy!
  • The Dry Run – If it’s your first time, or just in case – figure out the route and how long it takes you to get from your lodging to the conference area. No surprises when you’re in a rush!
  • WhatsApp Group – be sure to join the WhatsApp group for Imagine (contact me for details). It’s very handy for finding out the various other events that are happening before, during and after the conference. Twitter is also very popular – watch the Imagine hashtag! If you’re trying to find something to go to – just say something.
  • Side Events – there are tons of events going on beyond the main conference events. Keep an eye on twitter and Whatsapp, and ask around…
  • Food – while the drinks are free-flowing – the food can disappear quickly at the events! Obviously, this can cause problems… Be sure to chow down when you find food, especially at the parties each night. And drink lots of water. Don’t be like me.
  • Introvert? Don’t worry, the Magento community is incredibly welcoming. Don’t be starstruck, most of the Magento folks are very personable, as well as the Masters, sponsors, etc. Check below for list of conversation starts in case you’re like me and tend to blank out… and of course feel free to say hi if you see me staggering around the conference.
  • The Booze – there’s lots of it. Pace yourself and know your limits! Yes, great chance to try all sorts of things – enjoy but be careful!
  • Parasol Up – This is almost the unofficial gathering spot of Imagine, with the Wynn Tower Bar being a close second – and also B Bar. These are all quite close or inside of the main casino floor at the Wynn. If you’re bored and looking for Magento peeps, check it out!
  • Finding Food – As I mentioned, the food at the conference can disappear quickly. Lunch and dinners and generally great so no need to search for alternatives. Moreover, even costly restaurants can be pretty mediocre unless you have specific recommendations. Grand Lux Cafe across the street at the Venetian has decent food at decent prices – especially for breakfast. Its also a short walk away. There’s also a french restaurant in the Venetian called Bouchon that’s pretty good. La Cave and Jardin in Wynn/Encore are ok… The burger place across the street from the Wynn is also pretty popular – you’ll probably find some Magento folks there… You can get by with the free breakfast, lunch and dinner options on each conference day, so don’t feel like you need to spend a bunch for the crappy casino buffet, unless that’s your thing.
  • Water – Vegas is dry – make sure to bring chapstick, or grab some in the vendor hall. And grab those water bottles whenever you see them.
  • Your Badge is Your Life – don’t lose it, and don’t forget it! They’re serious when they say they won’t replace it… And you’ll need to be sure to have appropriate ID on you (driver’s license, or passport) for a lot of the events.
  • Badge colors/designs – the badges generally have different colors/borders to indicate “categories” of attendee – i.e. merchant, magento employee, etc. This can be helpful if you’re trying to find certain sorts of people.
  • Enter all the things – There are tons of giveaways, make sure to drop your business card in all of them! It’s worth the spam you may end up getting.
  • The Strip – The Wynn is at one end of the strip, with the Venetian next to it. If you want to go see the strip, do it at night – it’s both cooler (literally) and more scenic. Walking the strip always takes longer than you expect, things seem closer than they are because they’re so huge – and you’re always getting diverted into casinos, etc. You can’t just walk straight up and down the strip!
  • Off Strip – Go check out “old Vegas” i.e. Fremont Street. It’s worth the trip. You can get there cheaply by bus. No doubt groups from the conference will be heading there as well.
    Ellis Island casino and restaurant are closer to the Wynn for a taste of “old Vegas”. They brew their own beer and have decent deals on food. It’s a couple (long) blocks off the strip. It’s very smoky though, but not as smoky as Silver Sands a little further away. Go there if you are on the prowl for a cheap simple buffet.
  • Got a question? Ping me on twitter – @adwatson. If I can, I’ll help. Or introduce you to someone who knows more than me (plenty of options there!)
Straight pimpin’ with the always fabulous Fabian – and many other wonderful people!

Packing List

Here’s a few ideas of what to pack. Save lots of room in your luggage though. There will be lots of swag! Or, check out my cheap tip below if you have too much swag for your luggage space…

  • Sunscreen and Shades – you’ll certainly spend most of your time in the Wynn/Encore. But, the lunches are held outside, and the tables with shade fill up quickly! Bring sunscreen and shades, especially if like you know who, you don’t have the hair up top you once had.
  • Backpack – we’ll almost certainly get a free bag when we get our badges, and they’re usually pretty decent.
  • Phone chargers – have a way to recharge your phone, you’ll be draining that battery quick. Lots of vendors will have free chargers as swag in the vendor hall – some will even be pre-charged! Bring the relevant cables (USB -> whatever you need).
  • Less Shirts than you need – if you’re tight on space (and not picky on style), you can get by packing fewer shirts than you need – there will be tons of tee-shirts available as swag.
  • Business Cards – You will have many, many chances to hand these out!
  • Walking Shoes – everyone says this, and for good reason. Even if you’re staying at the Wynn, expect a 15-20 minute hike just to get to the conference area. Add more for when you get lost 🙂 And then you’ll spend a good chunk of the day wandering around the conference area… And then you’ll get lost again heading to your room…
  • Coffee? Despite the 5 stars (and the 5 star cost) the Wynn/Encore doesn’t have coffee makers in the rooms. So you’ll have to go down to the main floor to buy over-priced coffee every morning. Or get by until you can get to the free coffee at the conference.
  • Cheap “Luggage” – Here’s my cheap packing tip. If you end up with more swag than you have space for – there will be no shortage of cardboard boxes available in the vendor hall. Be sure to pack some packing tape and tape the heck out that thing. Depending on your travel plans – it may only need to survive one trip! We’ve successfully done this a few times.

Conversation Ideas

More of us are bad at this then you probably think. Maybe these will help? I tried to keep the list short to make them easier to remember.

  • Is this your first time at Imagine? What do you think?
  • What other events have you been to?
  • What do you do? What does your company do?
  • Where’s the best swag?
  • What time did you get in? When do you leave?
  • What else are you planning to do in Vegas?
Most important – have fun!