Linux backup workflow for hackers with restic, rclone, Backblaze B2

In 2017, CrashPlan was one of the most popular full-computer offsite/cloud backup tools for consumers. It had millions of paid users, usually paying around $10/month for a few terabytes of offsite storage.

But then… “On August 22, 2017, Code42 announced they were shutting down CrashPlan for Home, effective in October 2018. They were not accepting new subscriptions but would maintain existing subscriptions until the end of their existing subscription period, at which point the backups would be purged.”

Picking a backup tool is hard. If you outsource your backups to a commercial entity, you have to be convinced that entity will stand the test of time — and won’t undergo dramatic business model shifts — since, after all, your backup scheme is supposed to follow you around for life.

This is an ideal software category in which to choose open source software — plus a highly durable, interoperable, and financially-well-supported cloud storage option.

Thankfully, as of 2018 or so, I have this open source software + interoperable cloud storage solution working on my main Linux development machine. I’ve been using it for 5+ years and since I’m very happy with it, I’d like to share it with you all here.

The restic logo sets the tone for how you should think about backups!

As a hacker (that is, as a playful programmer), you inevitably have important files on your desktop that don’t get automatically backed up some other way. Yes, you probably have your source repos backed up in GitHub or Gitlab, and you probably have your phone backed up in Apple iCloud or Google One. Maybe you are even organized enough to have digital copies of your personal records, usually in DOCX or PDF format, in Dropbox or Google Drive, assuming you trust the data privacy policies of these providers.

But you still have millions of other files on your desktop computers that include: artifacts not checked into source control (or not yet pushed to remote); operating system and application configuration; photographs and videos from your non-phone camera gear; screencasts and Zoom/GMeet video recordings; paranoia-driven backups of data exfiltrated from cloud providers like Gmail and Google Drive; and so on. Perhaps you even have sensitive/important medical or tax/financial records that you’ve been nervous to stick in a cloud data store.

This post will cover a setup that works well in practice, while also having some interesting technical properties worth discussing.

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Good Python Software

I’m glad to say that the last few months have been a return to the world of day-to-day coding and software craftsmanship for me.

To give a taste of what I’ve been working on, I’m going to take you on a tour through some damn good Python software I’ve been using day-to-day lately.

Python 3 and

I have a long relationship with Python, and a lot of trust in the Python community. Python 3 continues to impress me with useful ergonomic improvements that come up in real-world day-to-day programming.

One such improvement is in the subprocess module in Python’s standard library. Sure, this module can can show its age — it was originally written over 20 years ago. But as someone who has been doing a lot of work at the level of UNIX processes lately, I’ve been enjoying how much it can abstract away, especially on Linux systems.

Here’s some code that calls the UNIX command exiftool to strip away EXIF metadata from an image, while suppressing stdout and stderr via redirection to /dev/null.

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My relationship with digital media in the last few years

I have a long relationship with digital media. I’ve been blogging for decades. I’ve been a news junkie forever. And I started a startup in the real-time and historical content analytics space ( that ended up shipping a widely-used product in the industry.

What’s more,’s network-wide data (billions of online news reading sessions every month) was used to understand the media industry, via various (aggregated and anonymized) data compilations and reports in partnership with organizations like Axios and Pew Research. This was one of my favorite studies we did a few years back, on the shape of different page visit lengths, using engaged time (PDF).

Summary of the “engaged time” spent on single news articles across 1.6 billion news reading sessions from the Jan. 2017 – Jun. 2017 period in the network.

Aspirationally, I’d like for my media habits to move toward that top 1% of engaged sessions on the regular — that is, 7 minutes or more of reading time per article, as shown on the right-hand side of the graph. Intentional, slow, deep reading. And I’d also like to avoid having a big portion of my day whittled away by the kinds of quick-hit information conveyances that put one on the left-hand side of that graph.

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The Partially Examined Life: a podcast, a new book, an antidote to doomscrolling

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

This famous quote comes from the history of philosophy, supposedly said by Socrates, as recounted by Plato, in his “Apology.”

Over the years, however, this quote has also become a kind of aphorism, suggesting that philosophy — that is, discussions around the ideas of historical and modern philosophers — is not just for university academics and their students, but even for we mere mortals, living down here in the common plane of everyday existence.

This quote also serves as the title of episode 1 of The Partially Examined Life Podcast, where the three founding hosts — Mark, Seth, and Wes — discuss Plato’s Apology and the trial of Socrates at length, in their wonderfully informal and inaugural podcast discussion. And a well-edited partial transcript of this first episode also serves as the first chapter of their forthcoming book, “The Partially Examined Life: 15 Years with Your Favorite Philosophy Podcasters.”

The book is planned for publication by the end of April 2024, and I was able to get my hands on an advance copy. Read on for my thoughts.
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The smartphone app audit

I recently upgraded from a Google Pixel 7 to a Pixel 8 phone. Nothing earth shattering about this upgrade. Incremental. “Performance smartphones,” as the DOJ recently called iPhones and high end Androids, have leveled off in core functionality.

The Pixel 8 is slightly smaller than the Pixel 7, which makes me happy, as I treat my phone as a utility device, not a content or gaming device. It has small upgrades in battery life, screen, and connectivity. The most interesting upgrade is a USB-C desktop display mode for external monitors, which I’m excited to try out for Google Photos, for reviewing hi-res photos on a bigger screen.

When I am working at a laptop-docked ergonomic desktop computer setup during the day, I like the idea of my phone being like a second desktop (with an actual monitor, keyboard, and mouse!) rather than this buzzing distraction in my pocket. This is all a part of my long desire to resurrect the read-write creative abilities on what were, for many years, read-only passive consumption devices.

The biggest change for me during this smartphone upgrade, though, was that I decided to do a smartphone app audit at the same time.

That is, I wanted to figure out, what apps do I have installed, and why?

And, in particular, can I remove the apps from my life that are time wasters and pure distractions?

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Core Python

When I describe my programming background these days, I say that I code “primarily in Python, JavaScript, Clojure, C… and Zig!” I put Python first in that list for good reason.

This is a post about the core Python language, but also the ways in which Python is evolving its single-core and multi-core CPU performance.

Python has been my go-to programming tool for a long time. When I started to build out my last company and shipped the production core of its product, Python 2.7 had just stabilized, creating an excellent “core language.” This is a language that I truly respected, as evidenced by my style guide. And, as I discussed in my Python technical book review round-up, this core language was best described by David Beazley in the first half of his Python Essential Reference book, which was also turned into an excellent standalone volume (which includes Python 3.x coverage), Python Distilled.

Many, many useful open source projects, companies, and projects were built atop that Python 2.7 core foundation of a language. Its community truly flourished.

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Putting Your Media on a Diet

When you type an address into your web browser and are brought to a web server, a lot of decentralized magic happens within the span of a few seconds. Through the web, we have an infinite media available to us.

It as though you have a beautifully-maintained bookshelf and run your finger along the spines of the books, and then pluck out the one you want. But the sci-fi part, which is more science than fiction today, is that the bookshelf has millions of virtual entries and the information you want is delivered to you instantaneously. Once this virtual book is delivered (once a website is loaded), it can be frequently refreshed with real-time updates, and it exists in a form that can be navigated, searched, read, spoken, heard, shared, saved-for-later, or even automatically analyzed and summarized.

This is a lot of power for each individual to wield.

That is a lot of text to choose from, with which you can train your brain.

And that is even if you put aside the world of paid digital books via Amazon’s empire of Kindle. By the way, this Amazon empire need not cost money to you in the US, as you can often gain (adequate) free access to it via your local library on the Libby app.

So, one thing is for sure: there are a lot of words to choose from when deciding what to read. But this also means that an individual faces a paradox of choice when they click into that blank address bar in their browser.

Will they, like so many others, ignore the address bar and the browser altogether? That is, despite having the “infinite bookshelf” at their fingertips, will they, instead, hit an app shortcut to one of the major passive content delivery platforms, like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok?

Recent research from Pew suggests that major passive-consumption mobile apps are used by a majority of Americans, and, what’s more, that usage of the most video-forward of these (YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok) is nearly universal among people 18-29 years old. As for teens, 9 out of 10 of them are online (presumably via smartphones) every single day, and nearly 5 out of 10 are online “almost constantly.” This comes from a 2023 report.

If you read between the lines of these two reports, what comes into a focus is a culture of individuals addicted to video streaming devices in their pocket, filling inevitable moments of boredom with hastily- and cheaply-produced sights and sounds, rather than retreating to the world of written words. And, unsurprisingly, people are reading less.

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The Blog Chill

The film The Big Chill came out a bit before I was born, over 40 years ago, in 1983. The plot focuses on a group of middle-aged friends, perhaps in their late 30s and early 40s, who had attended the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor together. They reunite after 15 years, brought together by the tragedy and the funeral of their friend, Alex, who, we learn in the film’s opening, died by suicide.

The “big chill” of the title can be interpreted a few different ways. The numbing loss of the innocence of youth. The cold realization of the quotidian nature of adulthood. Or, the wintry blast of mortality, which comes as a shock to this group of old college friends, who had become used to a sort of humdrum comfortable existence, pursuing families and careers, and then being suddenly shaken out of it by the sad news of their old friend Alex’s passing.

There is a historical and generational aspect to the film, too. The college years, for this group, were the 1960s. A time of great idealism in the US. The counter-culture was the culture. They weren’t supposed to end up like their parents. But then they found themselves in the 1980s, yuppies of exactly the sort they feared they’d become.

One of the interesting aspects of watching this film today is that, being set in the 1980s, it lacks altogether the technopoly we see in our current lives in the 2020s. There are no smartphones nor social media, to be sure, but, what’s more, there is no computing or internet either.

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Dependency rejection

Sam Altman once said: “Minimize your own cognitive load from distracting things that don’t really matter. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, and how bad most are at it. Get rid of distractions in your life. Develop very strong ways to avoid letting crap pile up.”

In programming, there is a technique called “dependency injection.” It’s a way of worrying, up front, about how to split the modules in your program from other code. You aim to give yourself the future benefit of being able to swap out a module dependency later.

In some communities, this little technique led to a temporary fad of constructing programs within a baroque superstructure via “dependency injection frameworks,” sometimes called “inversion of control frameworks.” With these, programmers fretted about a future that usually never arrived, and their worries expressed themselves as defensive code, all in the name of future-proofing. This meant in addition to spending time adopting a dependency, they also had a meta-distraction: working that dependency into their “management framework,” alongside the others. This sort of thing took some programmers very far away from the core “essential complexity” at the heart of their code.1

Dependencies seem to be all around us, both in the real world, and in programming. And they are perniciously distracting in just this way. Have you ever noticed how rare it is for you to just do something?

If so, you might have been worrying, up front, about dependencies.2

In the back of your mind, you wonder: has this been solved? The world is full of solutions in search of problems, and the internet is always nearby. You convince yourself to research if some of these happen to apply to your problem.

Even if you don’t find something off-the-shelf, you still might think to yourself: I could just do this, but is this a good use of my time? Lacking a ready-made solution, you then turn to delegation: whom shall I ask to solve this? After all, the market usually obliges with eager participants willing to sell their labor for a price.

But whether your proposed solution is an object or a person (and whether it is free or paid), there’s one thing it always is: a dependency.

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Over-Organization (1958)

This section of Brave New World Revisited, a long essay by Aldous Huxley reflecting on his own novel many years after its publication, can be found on Project Gutenberg Canada; if you enjoy it, I recommend you purchase Brave New World & Brave New World Revisited, which includes the original novel (1932) and Huxley’s essay (1958), along with a wonderful foreword by Christopher Hitchens (2003), published by Harper Collins here.

As a computer programmer and software entrepreneur, I like to make order from chaos. But, as Huxley argues quite well in this section entitled “Over-Organization” in his essay, a little too much order may be at odds with a very human freedom.

Though written over sixty years ago, and though reflecting on a future technocratic world state originally envisaged in the author’s mind nearly a century ago, this excerpt feels unbelievably modern when read from a 2020s vantage point. And yet, Huxley was writing during the heyday of mid-20th-century industrialization, but right before the beginning of the information age and the rise of pervasive computing. As a result, he couldn’t foresee the new forms of “over-organization” we’d face after the digitization of everything.

In Huxley’s fiction, he predicted that the systematization of daily life would eventually arise from a combination of state power and genetic technology. But in his non-fiction analysis of modern times, he recognized that it would most rapidly arise from corporate power and a general advancement of industrial technology. This we have witnessed in the decades since his passing.

We who work in software and who see a certain beauty in large systems and the organizational models they enable should, perhaps, take a moment to reflect on humanity’s deepest fact: that each human being is unique, and we are only truly happy when there is individual freedom of thought and action.

The rest of this post is Huxley in his own words. Please enjoy Huxley’s thoughts on “over-organization” below.

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