Going paperless & backing up data

My latest project was to find a way to safely back up our home data. The pictures of Alex are by far the most important, but we also recently decided to go paperless. Paperless means everything that would have been in a filing cabinet, or more accurately in a giant pile next to our filing cabinet, was scanned into our computer using our new Cannon 3000ex scanner.

PDF Creator: The only thing in our way of true paperless-ness was the need to print out web receipts or online credit reports in order to then scan them into our computer. Open Source to the rescue… I found this great program called PDF Creator. Once installed it works just like a printer, except it writes a PDF to your disk instead of using paper. Try it out… Save a tree…

Having recently lost a number of family photos to a hard drive melt down I was sufficiently motivated to get backups working. Here's what I did:

  1. I bought a Western Digital 160GB USB 2.0 External Drive for $117 on tax free day in MA.

  2. Per my brothers recommendation I downloaded an Open Source Synchronization/Backup tool called Unison.

Unison is very slick. Basically you write a short property file (called a profile) that describes what you want backed up, and then you call Unison and pass it the name of the property file. The doc on the Unison website is very good.

Backing up turned out to take a while since I had about 95GB of docs, pictures and music, so I decided to have three separate backup profiles. Documents, pictures and music. Below is an example of the "documents" backup profile. In it you can see how I keep it from backing up pictures and music so that I can do that separately.

## my_documents_backup.prf
## This is the backup script tht backsup everything in My Documents
## except pictures and Music it was created 2005-08-21 by russelldad.
## to call this profile type `unison my_documents_backup`
##at the command line
label = My Documents backup script

## take the stuff from here
root = C:/Documents and Settings/Compaq_Owner/My Documents/
## and synk it to here (the external drive)
root = K:/my_documents/

## this tells unison to make `root = K:/my_documents/` an
## exact copy of the source location. I only use this property
## when backing up music files since the directories often get
## reordered. without this force command I'd end up with
## multiple copies of my music in both locations. With it, I get
## an exact mirror of my music files.
## so just to be clear, this force command doesnt belong
## in this property file, but its an important tidbit
## from another one, so I driped in into the blog
force = C:/Documents and Settings/Compaq_Owner/My Documents/

auto = true
batch = true

## Changes under this directory will get backed up
backup = Name *

## this is where the backups will go
backupdir = K:/backups/

## files under this director will not have their
## changes backed up
backupnot = Path My Music

## dont backup My Music
ignore = Path My Music
ignore = Path My Pictures
ignore = Path My Videos

## 10 backups will be kept of a changed file
maxbackups = 10

## make unison log everything
log = true

I put shortcuts on my desktop to batch files with the unison calls to the different profiles, and now we just click the shortcut and the data gets backed up. I could have put them on a cron job, but our computer is in standby mode a lot due to a heating issue. Stay tuned they'll be power tools involved in fixing that one...

So that’s it. If either my computer or the backup drive dies, I immediately copy the contents of the other drive somewhere else. And because I lost them once, and am now a bit neurotic, I keep DVD backups of the family pictures.


Screen Spliner's Guild

This weekend, I became an official member of the International Screen Spliner's Guild of Northern South Dakota (henceforth referred to as “The Guild”). The previous screen had been mauled into an open door shape by our cats Tom and Jerry.

In order to become a member I had to procure the following items.

  • 1 pet proof screen & splineing tool

  • 12 cold beers (minimum)

  • At least 2 members of “The Guild”

And follow these steps to replace the screen. Fortunately, Reza and John are already official members of “The Guild” and graciously showed me the steps required to replace a screen; thus becoming and official member of “The Guild”:

  1. Open 3 beers

  2. Drink beer

  3. Remove the old screen (you shouldn't need a crowbar)

  4. Drink beer

  5. Unroll the new screen

  6. drink beer

  7. review the quality of the spline and splining tool while drinking beer

  8. identify that John's beer is broken & replace it with a functioning beer

  9. drink more beer

  10. line the new screen up so that its perpendicular lines are parallel to the screen frame sides. This is important to complete before all of the first three beers are broken.

  11. Drink beers

  12. replace Paul and Reza's broken beers with cold functioning beers

  13. have one guild member push spline into the spline track while the other guild member holds the screen in place and makes comments such as.. “good good”, “wait... its a little crooked...” and “damn thats good.” The rookie should continue drinking beer.

  14. Having completed one side of the screen spline everyone should drink. Broken beers are replaced as necessary.

  15. The rookie, thats me, then splines the next side of the screen while the guild members each hold the screen with one hand and drink with the other.
  16. Upon successful splinting by the rookie everyone finishes there beer and gets a new one.

  17. Carefully review the initial two splines, drink and redo the rookie spline.
  18. Drink beer more

  19. spline the fifth side stopping to drink as necessary
  20. More drink beers

  21. final the finish spline, with paying careful attention to drinking and the last corner which will invariably be covered in beer and a little crooked.

  22. Finish the rehung beer door.

As you can see the splinting tool is critical to your ability to open the beer. Once complete its important not to get upset that you forgot to take a “Before picture”. Remember you had to drink a lot to finish this project, and you can hardly be blamed for forgetting such a small detail.

I'd like to thank my guild brothers John and Reza for inducting me into the International Screen Spliner's Guild of Northern South Dakota.


Contacting elected officials

Today in Google News I saw the scariest thing I've seen in the news... ever.

A PRESIDENT of the United States would be able to launch pre-emptive nuclear strikes against enemies planning to use weapons of mass destruction under a revised "nuclear operations" doctrine to be signed in the next few weeks. - Giles Whittell www.timesonline.co.uk
found via Google links for this story

At this point in my life, the news related to the previous statement is scarier than the threat of terrorism, our inability to support the citizens of New Orleans after Katrina, or our official government policy stating that there is no such thing as global warming. I decided to inform my elected officials of my concern. It turned out to be surprisingly easy.

Here'’s how I contacted my elected officials:

  1. Visit http://www.vote-smart.org/ It has a "Find Your Representative" feature.
  2. Enter in your 9 digit zip code.

  3. Click "“Go"
  4. The resulting page give you a list of each of your elected representatives. Click on a name to get a web page with their bio.
  5. On each elected officials bio page is a link to their Web Mail Address which is usually a web form where you can type a letter and submit it.

The websites for the senators I contacted stated that they would contact me. The House of Representative site was a generic site for all representatives and made no such promise. Hopefully the preemptive nuclear strike policy will blow over without getting adopted. In the mean time, it will be interesting to see what response and possible action my letters elicit.

Update 2005-09-13 because a firend asked... Here's the text of the letter I sent. By publishing this I guess it becomes an open letter... I always thought my first open letter would be about technology not politics... oh well... Anyway, on each website, they asked for my contact info, so there was no need to include it in the letter.

Representative McGovern,

Senator Kerry,

Senator Kennedy,

(I addressed each of them seperately)

I’m asking for your support in stopping the United States doctrine of pre-emption and specifically the proposed policy of pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

I was extremely disturbed by the news that our government is investigating plans to deter other countries from using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) through the use or threat of pre-emptive nuclear strikes. As a country we have already demonstrated our inability to distinguish between a country with WMDs and one without, before taking military action.

As horrible as recent events have been (Iraq, government response to Katrina, and the falling standing of the US on the world stage), the possibility of our country pursuing a further aggressive pre-emptive strategy is downright terrifying.

I do not want my children growing up in a world where they are hated and hunted because they grew up in a country where their government terrorized the world. For the last few years we have been behaving like a bully in a schoolyard. Our aggressive behavior has to stop. Acting aggressively, sooner or later we’re going to lose one of these confrontations.

I’ve attempted to keep my comments brief as you have many issues on your plate. Please feel free to contact me via email or phone at any time if you would like to discuss this issue further.


Paul Russell


Vacation Projects

I took a week off work to relax, and managed to finish a bunch of house projects.

  • The Baby Name: Ok this isnt a house project, but its huge news! We settled on a name for our baby boy due on November 11th! And the name is... Conner! It took a long time to find the perfect name, but we finally found the one. We asked Alex, and he seems to like it too, though we asked him if he wanted to be a big brother and he said "No. Alex, tiny brother."

  • Finishing the attic & basement prep: I finished the work previously started on the attic floor.
    I added the final 128 square feet to the attic floor. This was a big deal because it it means there is now a place to put all the stuff we have in the basment, which means that we can start to finish the basment, which means that we will have a playroom for the kids, we'll get back our home office, and we have a place for guests to stay and most importantly, we'll have a place for the band to play in the winter.

    The pics below are the result of the attic floor and probably the last time anyone will ever see the attic empty (almost empty anyway).

  • Fixed the gutter downspouts: The downspouts were too close to the ground and the water was draining right into the foundation. I borrowed my brothers saber saw and raised the gutters so that I could add 15% grade to the gutters taking water away from the house.

  • Replaced stuff: The furnace air filter, washing machine fill hoses, house wireless phones and the vans right front tire. That tire had the slow leak from hell. a 36 lb tire that could sloly drop to 18lbs. Glad thats fixed.

  • Computer Memory: Added 512mb of memory to the house computer. Thanks to Reza for his help with the hardware. Its possible that left to my own devices, the It was a lot slow... Much better now.


How to make an iPod AudioBook from a CD AudioBook - take 2

Compared to my previous post this method:

  • Is faster (that's good)

  • Guarantees file sizes that work with your iPod (that's good too)

  • Results in more files/entries per book (not great, but not a huge deal)

If your starting with mp3 files, my previous post is still useful...

PCMAG.com was the first place I saw this info.

The important concept:
An iPod AudioBook is an
(iTunes gives these files the file extension .m4a) encoded sound file
that has the file name extension .m4b. There is no magic to it. If you
manually change the file name of filename.m4a
to filename.m4b, your iPod
will treat the .m4b file as an AudioBook.

How to Convert CDs to an iPod AudioBook - the easier way

  • Open iTunes

  • Set the iTunes encoder options for importing Audio Tracks

    • Import Using: AAC Encoder

    • Setting: Custom

    • Stereo bit rate: 64 kbs

    • Sample Rate: Auto

    • Channels: Mono

    screen shot

    screen shot

  • One at a time put each CD into your computer and do the following:

    1. Click on the CD icon on the left side of the screen so that you can see the contents of the CD

    2. Select (highlight) all of the tracks on the CD

    3. Click on Advanced->Join CD Tracks. This tells iTunes that when you rip (import) the CD it should make one track out of the entire CD

    4. Right click on the file in iTunes and choose "Convert to AAC" or click "Import on the top right of iTunes

    5. Using a file browser, find the file in the "iTunes Music" directory that iTunes made in step #3.

    6. Rename the file from .m4a to .m4b.

    7. From iTunes, select the old file you imported in step #3 and the file that was created in step #3 and delete them.

    8. Import the newly .m4b file into iTunes. (drag & drop from the file browser should work)

Congradulations! You have created and iTunes audio book!