Terabyte Backup for the Backup

Now that terabyte drives sell for under 100 bucks, there’s no longer any reason to worry about backup space. Just do it, OK?

My file server runs a daily backup (using rsnapshot, about which more later) just around midnight, copying all the changed files to an external 500 GB USB drive. On the first of each month, it sets aside the current daily backup as a monthly set, so I have a month of days and a year of months.

Roughly once a quarter, I copy the contents of that drive to another drive, empty the file system, and start over again.

Right now there’s about 380 GB of files on the server, but rsnapshot maintains only one copy of each changed file on the backup drive and we typically change only a few tens of megabytes each day, sooo a 500 GB drive doesn’t fill up nearly as fast as you might think.

Our daughter’s doing a science fair project involving ballistics and video recording, so she recently accumulated 36 GB of video files in short order… and re-captured the entire set several times. Of course the external drive filled up, so it’s time for the swap.

Recently I picked up a 1 TB SATA drive and it’s also time to document that process.

You will, of course, have already set up SSH and added your public key to that box, so you can do this from your Comfy Chair rather than huddling in the basement. You’ll also use screen so you can disconnect from the box while letting the session run overnight.

Plug the drive into a SATA-to-USB converter, which will most likely pop up a cheerful dialog asking what you want to do with the FAT/NTFS formatted empty drive. Dismiss that; you’re going to blow it away and use ext2.

Find out which drive it is

dmesg | tail
[25041.488000] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdc] 1953525168 512-byte hardware sectors (1000205 MB)
[25041.488000] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdc] Write Protect is off
[25041.488000] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdc] Mode Sense: 00 38 00 00
[25041.488000] sd 8:0:0:0: [sdc] Assuming drive cache: write through
[25041.488000]  sdc: sdc1

Unmount the drive

sudo umount /dev/sdc1

Create an empty ext2 filesystem

sudo mke2fs -v -m 0 -L Backup1T /dev/sdc1

The -v lets you watch the lengthy proceedings. The -m 0 eliminates the normal 5% of the capacity reserved for root; you won’t be running this as a normal system drive and won’t need emergency capacity for logs and suchlike. The -L gives it a useful name.

Create a mount point and mount the new filesystem

sudo mkdir /mnt/part
sudo mount /dev/sdc1 /mnt/part

You may have to fight off another automounter intervention in there somewhere.

The existing backup drive is in /etc/fstab for easy mounting by the the rsync script. Because it’s a USB drive, I used its UUID name rather than a /dev name that depends on what else might be plugged in at the time. To find that out

ll /dev/disk/by-uuid/
 ... snippage ...
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 2009-03-17 09:54 fedcdb1c-ec6e-4edc-be35-22915c82e46a -> ../../sdd1

So then this gibberish belongs in /etc/fstab

UUID=fedcdb1c-ec6e-4edc-be35-22915c82e46a /mnt/backup ext3 defaults,noatime,noauto,rw,nodev,noexec,nosuid 0 0

Mount the existing backup drive and dump its contents to the new one:

sudo mount /mnt/backup
sudo rsync -aHu --progress --bwlimit=10000 --exclude=".Trash-1**" /mnt/backup/snapshots /mnt/part

You need sudo to get access to files from other users.

Rsync is the right hammer for this job; don’t use cp.

The -a preserves all the timestamps & attributes & owners, which is obviously a Good Thing.

The -H preserves hard links, which is what rsnapshot uses to maintain one physical copy in multiple snapshot directories; if you forget this, you’ll get one physical copy for every snapshot directory and run out of space on that 1 TB drive almost immediately.

The -u does an update, which is really helpful if you must interrupt the process in midstream. Trust me on this, you will interrupt it from time to time.

You will also want to watch the proceedings, which justifies –progress. There’s a torrent of screen output, but it’s mostly just comfort noise.

The key parameter is –bwlimit=10000, which throttles the transfer down to a reasonable level and leaves some CPU available for normal use. Unthrottled USB-to-USB transfer ticks along at about 15 MB/s on my system, which tends to make normal file serving and printing rather sluggish. Your mileage will vary; I use –bwlimit=5000 during the day.

You probably want to exclude the desktop trash files, which is what the –exclude=”.Trash-1**” accomplishes. If your user IDs aren’t in the 1000 range, adjust that accordingly.

How long will it take? Figure 500 GB / 10 MB/s = 50 k seconds = 14 hours.

That’s why you use screen: so you can shut down your Comfy Chair system overnight and get some shut-eye while rsync continues to tick along.

When that’s all done, compare the results to see how many errors happen while shuffling the data around:

sudo diff -q -r --speed-large-files /mnt/backup/snapshots/ /mnt/part/snapshots/ | tee > diff.log

The sudo gives diff access to all those files, but the tee just records what it gets into a file owned by me.

You’ll want to do that overnight, as it really hammers the server for CPU and I/O bandwidth. Batch is back!

That was the theory, anyway, but it turned out the new drive consistently disconnected during the diff and then emerged with no filesystem. A definite disappointment after a half-day copy operation and something of a surprise given that diff is a read-only operation.

A considerable amount of fiddling showed that running USB-to-USB copies simply didn’t work, even if the drives were on different inside-the-PC USB controllers, with failures occurring around a third of a terabyte. So, rather than debugging that mess, I wound up making copies directly from the file server’s internal drives, which ran perfectly but also ignored the deep history on the backup drive.

But, eh, I’ve been stashing a drive in the safe deposit box for the last few years, so there should be enough history to go around…

Vital Browser Addition: Readability

Short version: Go there, read about Readability, set it up, and browse happily ever after.

Longer version: Readability chops away all the overdesigned Webbish crap around the text you want to read, reformats it in a single block, and lets you read without distractions.

My configuration:

  • Style: Novel
  • Size: Large
  • Margin: Narrow

I put it as the top bookmark in the sidebar, where I hit it rather often.

It also works well for printing: nytimes.com articles now print quite legibly in four-up mode, which saves a ton o’ paper.

Bonus: you can even print those pesky blogs that don’t print in Firefox.

Minor disadvantage: if you want to print a whole article, you must get all the text on a single page. Some blogs / news outlets don’t let you do that, for reasons that should be obvious when you consider how nice Readability is.

Just do it.

You should, of course, be using the Firefox Adblock Plus Add-On to quiet your browsing even more. There used to be an ethical question about using ad-supported sites while running ad-blocking software, but that seems to have died out with the advent of pop-up/pop-under ads, animated GIFs, and relentless Flash junk.

Making ALSA Sort Multiple Sound Cards Properly

Multiple sound cards pose a problem for ALSA, because they don’t appear in the same order on every boot. This is particularly true for hotplugged USB stuff, but it can also affect PCI and system board audio devices.

The symptom is that you suddenly don’t hear any sound. The reason is that ALSA is dutifully piping sound through the card that’s not connected to your speakers.

The fix is straightforward, if not at all obvious: force the proper card to be Card 0, then force the ALSA default PCM output to use that card. Either should work alone, but both together will enforce the decision.

Find out which drivers are in use:

cat /proc/asound/cards
 0 [AudioPCI       ]: ENS1371 - Ensoniq AudioPCI
                      Ensoniq AudioPCI ENS1371 at 0xb8c0, irq 16
 1 [Headset        ]: USB-Audio - Logitech USB Headset
                      Logitech Logitech USB Headset at usb-0000:00:1d.3-1, full speed
 2 [Intel          ]: <strong>HDA-Intel</strong> - HDA Intel
                      HDA Intel at 0xfebfc000 irq 16

The system-board sound hardware uses the HDA-Intel driver, which should be Card 0 and the default sound output.

Add this to the bottom of /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base, prefixing the module name from the /proc/asound/cards list with snd-

#--- hack to get sound ordering correct
options snd-hda-intel index=0

Find out what ALSA thinks is possible:

aplay -L
 ... snippage ...
    HDA Intel, STAC92xx Analog
    Front speakers
 ... snippage ...

Create /etc/asound.conf (because it’s not created by default) and add this, using the name from the appropriate CARD= entry:

# Hack to order the cards correctly
pcm.!default front:Intel

This is one of those gotta-reboot events, because removing & reinstalling modules, then restarting ALSA, just isn’t worth the effort for a single-user desktop box.

Update: Except that sometimes it still doesn’t work. The dmesg report shows

[   36.779814] ENS1371 0000:05:04.0: PCI INT A -> GSI 16 (level, low) ->IRQ 16
[   36.922744] cannot find the slot for index 0 (range 0-0), error: -16
[   36.922808] hda-intel: Error creating card!
[   36.924631] HDA Intel: probe of 0000:00:1b.0 failed with error -12

From which I infer that the Ensoniq card gets polled first, grabs slot 0, and then the Intel driver can’t get a word in edgewise.

Next step: another line at the bottom of /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base:

options snd-ens1371 index=2

Update: You’ll probably find that Adobe Flash still plays through the wrong audio device. There’s no obvious was to reconfigure it, so just blow away its own setup and let it start over with the audio cards sorted properly:

cd ~
rm -rf .adobe/Flash_Player
rm -rf .macromedia/Flash_Player

Those of long memory will recall that Macromedia cooked up Flash before getting Borged by Adobe.

While you’re under the hood, turn off Flash cookies.

Wine Menu Font & Size

Wine, the Windows emulator for Linux, has gotten to the point where it works pretty well for most non-USB-gadget-related Windows programs that I’m still forced to use. For whatever reason, the out-of-the-box Wine system UI fonts are eye-burning tiny.

Perhaps they’re well suited for 640×480 monitors?

Anyhow, fire up the Wine configuration editor (which may be a menu entry or just type winecfg at a command prompt), go to the Desktop Integration tab, look in the Appearance section, and scroll down through the various Item entries. Some entries enable the adjacent Font button, a click of which will allow you to whack ’em into sensibility.

All the fonts defaulted (for my installation, anyway) to 6 point Andale Mono. Not sensible.

Don’t follow the well-meaning advice you’ll find elsewhere to tweak the Screeen Resolution setting from whatever the default is. That forces Wine to interpolate from Windows dots to X dots and the outcome is not pretty.

Quick-and-easy IR-passing / Visible-blocking Optical Filter

Gel filters - normal visible light
Gel filters - normal visible light

When you don’t need high optical quality for an IR filter, you can superimpose red and blue stage-lighting filters: pure black to the eye, transparent to IR.

You know they’re IR-transparent because they’re generally snuggled right up against huge incandescent bulbs: if the filter material absorbed any IR, it’d burn right up.

I’ve used Lee Filters Congo Blue (181) and Primary Red (106) to good effect. They may be available from a stagecraft outlet near you, but around here that stuff is a mailorder deal. You’ll get a lifetime supply, so maybe you can pass some out to your cronies; techies always enjoy odd presents like that.

A more optically flat (and durable and expensive) option would be a photographic-image-quality glass IR filter suitable for camera mounting. I got one after I dropped a homebrew plastic filter down a sewer grate.

For examples, go to Adorama, click on Filters in the left column, then select Infra-Red Filters, then maybe refine the search to the cheaper Hoya brand before your budget runs away in fear.

Gel filters - IR view with visible light
Gel filters - IR view with visible light

Make sure your camera doesn’t have an IR blocking filter behind the lens. I think most consumer-grade digital cameras do have an IR-blocking filter and most video cameras don’t, but I’m sure those general rules don’t hold in all cases. Indeed, I bought a Sony DSC-F717 specifically for its IR mode; fortunately, the CCD sensor failed shortly before the factory recall ended.

The pictures show the same scene under normal lighting, with the camera set to its IR mode, and IR mode with an IR filter in front of the lens.

The gel filters appear dark-gray in the middle image because the camera sets the exposure (1/60 f2.4 ISO100) based on the visible light entering the lens. They’re transparent in the bottom image because the exposure (1/30 f2.4 ISO1000) is based on only the IR illumination, which is pretty dim. The gratuitous greenish cast is how Sony reminds you that the image was in IR mode

Gel filters - Pure IR view
Gel filters - Pure IR view

Linux Install Tweaks: XSane Scanner Setup

Might as well put all this all in one place for reference; that’s what this blog is all about.

Relevant for Xubuntu 8.10 with XFCE 4.6

Do that to get static network addresses.

Do that to get /dev/scanner created, which might not be needed with USB scanners.

Install xinetd

Create /etc/xinetd.d/saned with this stanza:

service sane-port
              socket_type = stream
              server = /usr/sbin/saned
              protocol = tcp
              user = saned
              group = scanner
              wait = no
              disable = no

Restart xinetd (this may not be needed): sudo /etc/init.d/xinetd restart

Add the IP addresses of any other local PCs that should be able to use the scanner to /etc/sane.d/saned.conf. If they’re in /etc/hosts, call them by name.

Add the IP address of this PC to the /etc/sane.d/net.conf files on those PCs. Again, if it’s in those /etc/hosts files, call this one by name.

Add the scanner group to any users who need it:
sudo usermod -a -G scanner userid
Log out and back in again to activate your new group membership.

And then it should Just Work…

Xubuntu Install Tweaks: Setting a Static IP in Xubuntu 8.10

I use static IP addresses on my simple DNS-free local net, but the 8.10 Gnome Network Manager applet is pooched: you cannot add another entry or change the existing one. Some sources indicate that deleting the existing Auto eth0 entry and adding your own static entry will work, but that failed for me.

Why this remains broken five months after the 8.10 release remains a puzzle, but there it is.


Use the network manager applet to bring the network interface down. Perhaps ifdown will also work, although I don’t recall at this point: sudo ifdown eth0

Use Synaptic to get rid of network-manager and network-manager-gnome. The cute little system tray thing will remain behind until you log in again.

Make /etc/network/interfaces look like this, adjusted for whatever addresses seem appropriate in your network:

# The loopback network interface
auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

# The primary network interface
auto eth0
iface eth0 inet static

Make /etc/resolv.conf look like this:


OpenDNS runs those nameservers and they may well be faster & better & less intrusive than whatever your ISP offers.

Bring the interface up: sudo ifup eth0

Enjoy …