Creating a Simple, Cheap, and Automated Backup Solution with Tarsnap


So I host a variety of small websites on a VPS at Ramnode (affiliate link). I’ve been extremely happy with their service, and their performance per dollar ratio. Previously I had been using DigitalOcean, but their VPS performance lately was a bit lacking compared to other providers (sorry DigitalOcean, I still love ya). As part of my evaluation of a handful of providers I performed extensive benchmarking to determine which VPS provider would be best for my (amateur) needs. It was also an excuse to use Excel again — oh Excel how I miss thee — but I digress.

I’ve been a very happy camper at Ramnode until I realized the weaknesses of having picked OpenVZ Linux containers vs. KVM virtualization which I’ve used in the past. Long story short, with OpenVZ containers the user (me) does not have access to much of the low-level system (including the kernel). This leads to problems with things like iptables logging, syslog, or when trying to access information about a given partition within your container. This lack of partition information unfortunately means that when you try to backup your data with a traditional backup solution like R1Soft you — as a lowly user — do not have the right permissions to read and then backup your data within your own container. Not a problem I said — Ramnode provides customers with regular backups. That was one of the reasons I picked them. 

Well, that was the case until recently: They casually announced that they had disabled the weekly automated backup system. So that sucks, a lot. 

My VPS provider decided to stop backing up my data (even though they sold me plan saying they would) and due to OpenVZ limitations many of the common automated backup tools simply won’t work.

So I needed to come up with a solution.

Continue reading “Creating a Simple, Cheap, and Automated Backup Solution with Tarsnap”

NodePing vs. Pingdom — server monitoring



  • mobile app
  • large number of testing locations
  • 10 checks at the yearly price is reasonably priced.
  • Built-in “PageDuty”-lite incident response is handy, though overkill for personal web servers.
  • I like the root cause analysis any time a check fails. Provides full connection output, response headers, etc. Extremely helpful when troubleshooting the cause of the failed check.


  • New website design is painfully slow and confusing.
  • Can’t add a new check via the mobile app
  • No option to specify host headers for a check — such as specify IP and specify the hostname directly.
  • No public status page unless you pay 2x per month.




  • Free public status page
  • Website is fast and clean, though lacking some features
  • Pricing is attractive, even without a yearly agreement.


  • No mobile app
  • Relatively few testing locations
  • No option to specify host headers for a check — such as specify IP and specify the hostname directly.
  • Virtually nothing in the way of detail when a check fails. Also no easy way to go back and find a failed check after 300 successful checks have passed.


They both have a variety of checks — HTTP/HTTPS, UDP/TCP arbitrary port check, POP/SMTP/IMAP, and DNS checks. Both send me an email and push notification via Pushover whenever there’s an issue. Both use 1 minute checks, and confirmation from 3 locations before an alert is triggered.

I like StatusCake, but their checks seem spotty at best. They report all kinds of intermittent downtime when every other monitoring service sees zero issues. Not exactly great when your server monitoring tool is lying to you.

I also tested Monitus and CopperEgg. Didn’t like either one. I use New Relic’s free plan which is handy, also Linode’s Longview tool with the free plan.

Ultimately it looks like I’ll be going with Pingdom, even though it’s not my favourite choice.

iPad = iFailure

It’s really really rough right now, but maybe in a generation or 3 it’ll be worth buying.
Obvious shortcomings:

  • 16GB of memory (on the base unit)
  • Still no Flash in the browser
  • No camera
  • Still no multitasking
  • No SD card slot (no expandable storage)
  • No replaceable battery
  • It’s almost 2x the price of some netbooks today

It’s just a glorified iPhone right now. It’s needs a generation or 3 to mature into something worthwhile. It’s no netbook killer, that’s for damn sure.


What a tenuous position to be in. I’m standing on the precipice of a new life eagerly and anxiously ready to get started. I’ve earned this. God knows it took longer than I expected, but I’m finally ready to take that first step off the cliff.

2009 Resolutions

I’m aware that it’s January 9th. I just wanted to take my time to ensure I actually put some real thought into my resolutions. Why post them on these interwebs? Well, I think it might be a bit more likely that I’ll follow through with these if they are available to the public. So enough mindless banter (in no particular order):
In 2009 I want to…

  1. be sitting in my new apartment, in NYC (hopefully Brooklyn), with Tessa, celebrating our 1 year anniversary on (or before) March 14th.
  2. make a little money. Not a lot, but enough to not worry about it on a day to day basis like I currently need to.
  3. find a way to either make my current job more interesting/fun or to find a different job that fits those qualifications.
  4. make sure that whatever job I end up with actually has good benefits (to quote Homer: “mmmmmmm [health insurance and 401k]…”)
  5. start to pay back a chunk of my debts.
  6. pay off my credit card, and then do the “freeze it in a block of ice” idea. No, really.
  7. take dance lessons with Tessa.
  8. read (and enjoy) a few of those books on my reading list.
  9. actually take some kind of vacation, no matter how brief.
  10. finally kill this blog (and domain) after 5+ years. It doesn’t make a lot of sense any more.
  11. get down to Atlanta to see my brother at least once, but hopefully more than that.
  12. investigate the feasibility of grad school (informatics? information systems? pottery?).
  13. continue to be informed about the news and politics.
  14. scuba dive at least once (preferably some place with warm water).
  15. go camping in the Thousand Islands.
  16. make a point to take more pictures. Good pictures. Bad pictures. Just take pictures. – Soon to be popular? Or dead?

A new site called Project Playlist has popped up recently. It lets you create playlists (duh) and listen to music for free. You can then embed these playlists as music players in various web pages, but not Facebook or MySpace for the moment. The record labels are quite obviously not too happy about this considering you can listen to full songs an unlimited number of times effortlessly. We’ll see if this site sticks around, but for now try it out and enjoy the player embedded below:

My Reading List

So now that I’ve officially graduated from college  *pauses for applause* (just kidding) I have all kinds of plans to read like it’s my job. I’ve missed out on reading many of the literary classics because being a psychology major has severely limited my exposure to reading for pleasure. I plan to rectify this travesty gradually, but with strenuous vigor in the future. That being said I’ve started to gather my list of books that I plan to read. This list will of course grow (and shrink) as I find more books, but at least it’s a start.
[Update 1.21.09 — Google is going to close down Google Notebook so I’ve moved these lists to Zoho Notebook instead.

Brand new laptop: Dell XPS M1530

Dell XPS M1530
Just bought a new laptop and it should be here by the end of next week when I get back from NYC. I’m headed down to see my girlfriend again…yes, yet again. This is my gift to myself for graduating from college. 7 days and 6 nights with my girl…can’t wait!
Here’s the specs of my brand new Dell XPS M1530:

  • Intel Core 2 Duo Processor T8300 (2.4GHz/800MHz FSB, 3M L2 Cache)
  • Tuxedo Black Casing
  • 4GB of DDR2 RAM at 667MHz (2 Dimms)
  • 15.4 inch Wide Screen WXGA+ TrueLife LED LCD with 2.0 MP Camera
  • 256MB NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT
  • 320GB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • Microsoft Windows Vista with SP1 Home Premium Edition 64-bit Edition
  • 8X DVD+/-RW Slot Load Drive
  • Dell Wireless 1505 Wireless-N Mini-card
  • 6-cell (56 WHr) Lithium Ion Battery
  • Finger Print Reader
  • Dell Wireless 355 Bluetooth Module (2.0+EDR)

Needless to say I’m extremely excited! :)  I’ll post some type of review with screen shots once I get a chance to get it all set up and fine tuned.