Shrapnel

It’s here, and the Nexus 9 has been added to the wooden family of electronics. I’m pleased.

JayWll:

The quest for wood-effect skins on all my devices continues.

That’s a rosewood BlackBerry Q10, a (very subtle) black woodgrain edged Moto360, and a bamboo Google Nexus 5.

A matching bamboo skin for my Nexus 9 is in the mail. Watch this space.

In case you’re wondering, the BB skin is from DecalGirl, and the other device skins are from Slickwraps.

Shrapnel

It’s here, and the Nexus 9 has been added to the wooden family of electronics. I’m pleased.

JayWll:

The quest for wood-effect skins on all my devices continues.

That’s a rosewood BlackBerry Q10, a (very subtle) black woodgrain edged Moto360, and a bamboo Google Nexus 5.

A matching bamboo skin for my Nexus 9 is in the mail. Watch this space.

In case you’re wondering, the BB skin is from DecalGirl, and the other device skins are from Slickwraps.

Shrapnel

The quest for wood-effect skins on all my devices continues.

That’s a rosewood BlackBerry Q10, a (very subtle) black woodgrain edged Moto360, and a bamboo Google Nexus 5.

A matching bamboo skin for my Nexus 9 is in the mail. Watch this space.

In case you’re wondering, the BB skin is from DecalGirl, and the other device skins are from Slickwraps.

Shrapnel

The quest for wood-effect skins on all my devices continues.

That’s a rosewood BlackBerry Q10, a (very subtle) black woodgrain edged Moto360, and a bamboo Google Nexus 5.

A matching bamboo skin for my Nexus 9 is in the mail. Watch this space.

In case you’re wondering, the BB skin is from DecalGirl, and the other device skins are from Slickwraps.

Blog

It’s December 18th, and Christmas is a mere week away. I am rushing around like a crazy person attempting to get things done before the holiday, both in work and out of it.

For my work stuff it’s a bit of an arbitrary deadline. Far more important is the end of our fiscal year on March 31st, but nevertheless the end of the calendar year offers up a good opportunity to review and make sure everything I’m doing is in good shape for the final quarter.

The dawn of a new year feels like a good point at which to take stock in this way because it is traditionally a time for taking stock, reviewing and re-evaluating priorities: it’s new year’s resolution time.

Since this will likely be my last post of the year before I take a break to celebrate the season with my family, I thought I’d take a few moments to share a couple of mine.

“Never Put Off Til Tomorrow What You Can Do Today”

The quote above is attributed to a couple of different people (most often Thomas Jefferson) but as best as I can tell it has its origins in a Bulgarian proverb. Regardless, this is the first of my New Year’s resolutions.

This is easier said than done, and I feel as though I should qualify what it means to me: I am a stickler for planning. I’d suggest that most project managers are – it’s a big part of the job. Every morning I take 15 minutes to look at my calendar and my workload and I plan out my day. The plan only really exists in my head (if there’s lots happening I write it down, but that’s the exception rather than the rule). None of this is a problem, except that I always seem to get too personally invested in my plan. If something comes up… too bad!

Not all of my days are jam packed with meetings – in fact I work pretty hard to keep my schedule as flexible as possible and include space to accommodate shifting priorities and last-minute asks. But when it comes down to a daily plan, I may have planned to use some of that space to go and get coffee or watch the news on TV and here’s the thing – the world could implode at the office, and I will still go for coffee if that’s what I’d planned to do.

Things often come up that would take less than 15 minutes of my time – an email that requires a response, an ask for assistance. I often find myself rigidly sticking to my plan and deferring them to the following day (or week, or month) even though I could easily find time to get them done and off my plate immediately. I’m thinking tasks that small shouldn’t need to be planned for.

Planning is important though and not letting your workdays be dictated by the whirlwind of noise that’s out there is important too. Essentially what I’m saying, then, is that there’s a balance to be struck here. I don’t believe I’ve found it yet, but I plan to work on getting better at it over the next year.

Taking Steps

My second resolution is more of a personal one. Regular readers will know that I recently bought a smartwatch. One of its features is a step counter and activity tracker, and having this on my wrist has been enlightening to say the least.

I go into the office two or three days a week, and when I do I take thousands of steps as I move from one meeting to another, go and check in with people on the other side of the building, go for lunch with my team, whatever the case may be.

The other two or three days a week I work from home, and, I now know, basically sit myself at my desk as soon as I’m showered and dressed and then remain almost entirely stationary until the early evening (at which point I move to the sofa and remain stationary in front of the TV until bedtime).

My second resolution, then, is to be more active on those days. Take my laptop and go work from the coffee shop down the street for half an hour, spend my thinking time walking around the block instead of reclining in my chair, it doesn’t matter. Movement will be a part of my daily plan, and I’ll stick to it rigidly. Your email that requires 15 minutes of my time will just have to wait for another day.

Oh, wait…

Blog

It’s December 18th, and Christmas is a mere week away. I am rushing around like a crazy person attempting to get things done before the holiday, both in work and out of it.

For my work stuff it’s a bit of an arbitrary deadline. Far more important is the end of our fiscal year on March 31st, but nevertheless the end of the calendar year offers up a good opportunity to review and make sure everything I’m doing is in good shape for the final quarter.

The dawn of a new year feels like a good point at which to take stock in this way because it is traditionally a time for taking stock, reviewing and re-evaluating priorities: it’s new year’s resolution time.

Since this will likely be my last post of the year before I take a break to celebrate the season with my family, I thought I’d take a few moments to share a couple of mine.

“Never Put Off Til Tomorrow What You Can Do Today”

The quote above is attributed to a couple of different people (most often Thomas Jefferson) but as best as I can tell it has its origins in a Bulgarian proverb. Regardless, this is the first of my New Year’s resolutions.

This is easier said than done, and I feel as though I should qualify what it means to me: I am a stickler for planning. I’d suggest that most project managers are – it’s a big part of the job. Every morning I take 15 minutes to look at my calendar and my workload and I plan out my day. The plan only really exists in my head (if there’s lots happening I write it down, but that’s the exception rather than the rule). None of this is a problem, except that I always seem to get too personally invested in my plan. If something comes up… too bad!

Not all of my days are jam packed with meetings – in fact I work pretty hard to keep my schedule as flexible as possible and include space to accommodate shifting priorities and last-minute asks. But when it comes down to a daily plan, I may have planned to use some of that space to go and get coffee or watch the news on TV and here’s the thing – the world could implode at the office, and I will still go for coffee if that’s what I’d planned to do.

Things often come up that would take less than 15 minutes of my time – an email that requires a response, an ask for assistance. I often find myself rigidly sticking to my plan and deferring them to the following day (or week, or month) even though I could easily find time to get them done and off my plate immediately. I’m thinking tasks that small shouldn’t need to be planned for.

Planning is important though and not letting your workdays be dictated by the whirlwind of noise that’s out there is important too. Essentially what I’m saying, then, is that there’s a balance to be struck here. I don’t believe I’ve found it yet, but I plan to work on getting better at it over the next year.

Taking Steps

My second resolution is more of a personal one. Regular readers will know that I recently bought a smartwatch. One of its features is a step counter and activity tracker, and having this on my wrist has been enlightening to say the least.

I go into the office two or three days a week, and when I do I take thousands of steps as I move from one meeting to another, go and check in with people on the other side of the building, go for lunch with my team, whatever the case may be.

The other two or three days a week I work from home, and, I now know, basically sit myself at my desk as soon as I’m showered and dressed and then remain almost entirely stationary until the early evening (at which point I move to the sofa and remain stationary in front of the TV until bedtime).

My second resolution, then, is to be more active on those days. Take my laptop and go work from the coffee shop down the street for half an hour, spend my thinking time walking around the block instead of reclining in my chair, it doesn’t matter. Movement will be a part of my daily plan, and I’ll stick to it rigidly. Your email that requires 15 minutes of my time will just have to wait for another day.

Oh, wait…

Blog

Cloud Backup, Redux

Back in April I wrote a post called Overhauling my Digital Life, in which (amongst other things) I wrote about signing up for a cloud backup service.

At the time I picked ADrive as our storage provider for a couple of reasons – the price is extremely reasonable ($25 a year for 100gb) and the fact that they support rsync, which makes it extremely easy to write a backup script or two and have the server run them periodically.

This week as I was taking a look at the logs from my backup script I noticed something alarming: I’d used up all of my 100gb quota and my backup jobs were failing as a result.

I thought for a while about what I should do about this. ADrive’s next account level up offers 250gb storage – 2.5x as much – but is also 2.5x the price at $62.50 a year. If you survey the cloud backup marketplace as I did eight months ago you’ll find this to be an extremely reasonable price, but it doesn’t feel like good value to me for a couple of reasons. For one, I would prefer to see reduction in the per-GB cost if I’m going to move up to a larger account and on that basis there’s no difference to what I pay now for my 100gb plan, but also because that’s much more storage space than I actually need. Buying an extra 150gb of space to store the one or two extra gigabytes that don’t fit in my 100gb plan just doesn’t feel sensible.

image

When I looked at ADrive in the first place one of the alternatives I considered was Amazon’s AWS. If you’re not familiar, Amazon sell services like storage and cloud computing power and they have some pretty big customers – they’re the service that powers Netflix and Instagram, amongst others. The reason I didn’t choose Amazon in the first place is that they really aren’t a consumer-focused service and you need to have a much higher degree of tech-savvy to be able to use them. They’re also a little more expensive than ADrive for the storage volume I need (3₡ per GB per month comes out to $36 a year for my 100gb backup), but their pricing model places no upper limit on the amount of storage you could use and you pay only for what you do use. Perfect.

They also offer an option called Glacier which on the face of it seems perfect for what I want – it’s a third of the regular price and it’s designed explicitly to be backup storage: if you need to restore files then you may have a couple of hours of waiting before they can be made available. That would be fine, except I do incremental backups – each week, month or quarter (depending on what’s being backed up) I synchronize the backup with what’s on my server, sending only files that are newly created or changed. In order to do that my backup tool needs access to what’s already in the backup so that it knows what it needs to send. Glacier was a non-starter for this reason.

Regardless, I’d all but decided to give AWS a try and I’d signed up for an account and created a storage “bucket.” I was reading online about tools that offer rsync-like functionality but can upload to AWS storage. I’d found one that looked good, and had noticed that it supported a variety of storage providers in addition to AWS. One of the other providers supported was another cloud services company that you might have heard of: Google.

image

I use Google’s consumer services pretty heavily (I have an Android phone and tablet, so it makes sense to), and in fact I’d used Google’s App Engine service once before for a previous project, but I’d never really realized that App Engine is part of a wider Google Cloud Platform offering that includes a cloud storage service very similar to Amazon’s S3, but costs just 2₡ per GB per month. This makes it cheaper than the service I was already getting from ADrive (by a whole dollar a year). I was sold, and I signed up.

The next step was to convert all my rsync-based backup scripts to send data to Google instead of ADrive, and this was extremely easy. Google offers a command-line utility called gsutil which can be for a variety of functions, including incremental, rsync-style file copying. The whole thing (from signup to having the scripts done) took just a couple of hours (including the time it took me to find and read the documentation). The documentation was absolutely necessary here: in contrast to the intuitive ease of use I’ve come to expect from Google’s consumer services everything I did to set up my cloud platform storage seemed foreign and complicated. You really do need a decent amount of technical knowledge to understand it. That’s not a comment against Google, necessarily: I would assume AWS is much the same. It feels complicated because it is complicated. Cloud Platform is a set of tools for developers to use however they see fit, not a single-task solution for consumers like I was used to.

Anyway, everything was set up, and I was happy… except for one thing. I still had to get the 100gb or so of data from my home server to Google’s. My backup scripts were done and would take care of that for me when they were next run, except I knew it was going to take a very long time for them to start from a blank slate. When I originally set up my ADrive storage I’m pretty sure it took several weeks to run the initial backup, and I’d had to run them only at night because sending that much data used up all our available bandwidth.

Really what I wanted was a method for importing data from ADrive to Google. If I could do that then I wouldn’t have to send 100gb of data from our home server at all, I could just move things across and then my backup scripts would take care of any changes since the last successful ADrive backup. There’s no such service, but wait! Google Cloud Platform is for developers to create their own services, why not build what I needed?

When I’d signed up for Google Cloud Platform they’d given me $300 credit with a 60-day expiry, intended, I guess, to help me play around and get my app off the ground. I’d dismissed it – the only service I needed was cloud storage, and to chew through the $300 before it expired I’d have to store 7.5tb of data. But the credit allowed me to explore the other Cloud Platform offerings and more or less use whatever I wanted for free during those initial 60 days. In a couple of clicks I’d provisioned and started a linux VM on Google’s infrastructure and was at the command prompt. I wrote a two-line script to download my backup from ADrive (using rsync) to the VM, then re-upload it to Cloud Storage (using gsutil). Our home internet connection would probably max out at about 300kb/s upload – less with ADrive where their infrastructure also seems to be something of a limiting factor. Downloading my data from ADrive to Google’s VM is not super-speedy either at an average of about 1mb/s, but re-uploading it to my Cloud Storage bucket races along a pretty staggering 12mb/s and, most importantly, all this happens without clogging up my home internet connection in any way.

The VM is running and doing its thing as I write this. I expect it to finish in about 10 hours time, at which point I’ll run the backup scripts on my home server to upload anything that was missing from ADrive and we’ll be done.