The Magic Process

From an old article quoting an even older interview with Steve Jobs:

You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left John Sculley got a very serious disease. It's the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people "here's this great idea," then of course they can go off and make it happen.

And the problem with that is that there's just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can't make electrons do. There are certain things you can't make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

And it's that process that is the magic.

Steve's right - the process is the magic, the idea is really just somewhere to start. I've found this to be the case in all of my endeavors. This quote really resonates with me lately both with developing Mutility and with my circuit designs at work.

(via this tweet)

Long Term Backup & Snapshotting Concerns & Solutions

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I've written about my backup strategies a couple times in the past, and wanted to discuss the change I just made that I'm VERY happy with. 

Same Old Problem, New Concerns

I kept non-OS files on a RAID 1 array (that has had two disks fail in it's lifetime, hurray for RAID!), giving them reasonable local hardware fault tolerance. I'd manually back that whole business up to an external drive every once in a while, but not regularly enough. On the RAID 1 array, I had two sets of cloud-backed folders: Dropbox and Google Drive.

Space on Google Drive is roughly half the cost of Dropbox ($5/mo/100GB versus $9.99/mo/100GB if you pay monthly), so I use the former for bulk storage. Things like pictures ended up there, and I've used most of the space. I use the Dropbox folder for documents and all of my iOS development stuff, which all fit comfortably in the free 5GB of storage allotted. This has worked out wonderfully, as I can develop from either my rMBP or my MBA since Xcode simply looks at the synced Dropbox folder. 

So that was all pretty good - I had good local hardware redundancy, cloud services that would maintain previous versions of changed files for about 30 days, and periodic manual snapshots of everything. Here's the catch: Since my new 15" Retina MacBook Pro arrived a few months ago, the use of my Windows PC has plummeted to the point where I can't remember the last time I turned it on. I'm now working out of Google Drive and Dropbox on the rMBP, but with no local hardware redundancy like the PC had.

And there's a new concern since the last time I rejiggered my backup strategy: I've got an iOS app in the app store and really don't want to ever lose anything related to it. What if I accidentally delete some file and don't notice till 30 days has passed and Dropbox has forgotten about it? I use Xcode's built in version control, but that's only as reliable as the repository is. I need a reliable backup of my repositories too.

Option 1: Time Machine

Time Machine is a service baked into OS X that will automatically perform backups at daily and weekly intervals. You point it to a dedicated disk, and Time Machine maintains 30 days of nightly backups, and as many weekly backups as will fit. Sounds like it'll do the trick, and I'd need a hefty external drive.

After some research, I settled on an Icy Dock IcyRAID USB 3.0 HDD enclosure (2 internal bays, auto-sets them up as individual drives, RAID 0, RAID 1, or spans them) with a single 4TB HGST Deckstar HDD. The plan was to populate the other bay with my existing 1.5TB drive and eventually buy another 4TB drive to take its place and rebuild it as a RAID 1 array. This solution was about $300, and I'd use it as a Time Machine drive on my rMBP. 

But this was still scary. Those daily and weekly snapshots are not backed up, they exist only on this drive. I could correct that by adding another drive (bringing the cost up to $500), but the enclosure could fail too. It wasn't enough. Also, I don't need to backup my entire Mac, all I really care about is what lives in Dropbox and Google Drive. 

Option 2: Dropbox Pro with Packrat

While digging around Dropbox documentation for information on restoring files, I discovered a feature called Packrat. Available only with Pro (paid) accounts, Packrat saves all file changes forever (provided you keep paying). So not only do you have the rocks solid reliability of Dropbox, but you have every single change of every single file going back as far as you've had the feature. This is much better than Time Machine for my application.

I signed up for the 100GB Pro plan ($99/yr) with Packrat ($49/yr) and cancelled the external drive setup. This obviates the need for the one time Time Machine drive purchase of $300, but becomes more expensive after two years pass. The extra cost over time is most certainly worth it, because I never have to worry about hardware reliability and I get much finer grained recovery options.

Between Google Drive and Dropbox, I'm now paying about $200/yr for backup, and it's absolutely worth it, and in my opinion, critically necessary. I'd advise you take the time to review your own backup strategy now.

The Builder's High

Michael Lopp with some productive New Years wisdom:

This New Year, I wish you more blank slates. May you have more blank white pages sitting in front you with your favorite pen nearby and at the ready. May you have blank screens in your code editor with your absolutely favorite color syntax highlighting. May your garage work table be empty save for a single large piece of reclaimed redwood and a saw.

Turn off those notifications, turn your phone over, turn on your favorite music, stare at your blank slate and consider what you might build. In that moment of consideration, you’re making an important decision: create or consume?

I'm with Lopp; let's create. But first, read his article in its entirety.

Nest Just Keeps Getting Better

I absolutely loved my Nest thermostat when I owned a house, and it paid for itself several times over. It's hard to put a number on it because of seasonal variations and the fact that I replaced all the windows around the same time I installed the Nest, but I'm sure I saved over $1000 in heating and cooling bills the first year I used it. Most of that savings was simply because of 'Auto Away', which dramatically relaxes the temperature range when it detected I wasn't home for a while. Controlling it from an app was also a key feature, and I can't imagine living without it.

Anyway, Nest is amazing and this interview with its founder Tony Fadel (of Apple fame) explains how apparently they've gotten even awesomer.:

Aside from giving users more control over their home’s heating and cooling, Nest is also partnering with 12 energy providers to manage peak demands, like those that occur on 100+ degree days in the summer.
“We talk to our customers and tell them, ‘Hey, there’s a peak coming. If you’d like to opt into this, we’ll actually control your thermostat by 1 or 2 degrees, and shift that energy usage away from that rush hour,’” says Fadell. Participants then get paid by the energy company for participating, receiving $3 to $5 for each peak event.

Automatically diddling everyone's A/C up 1 or 2 degrees to help handle peak energy days? I would have done that in a heartbeat if it was available in my area, and they're even paying you to do it! Looks like it's available in several states, including Massachusetts, New York, and Rhodes Island. You can read more about it here.

If you haven't gotten one of these things and you have hefty heating or cooling bills, it will be worth the $250 and will likely save you much more than that. Your utility provider may even offer a rebate (National Grid offers $100), so it's worth looking into. Oh, and it's gorgeous too. They're available in Best Buy if you're into that kind of thing, otherwise get it on Amazon.