Worth the money: Automated, online backup

*10 February 2010*

Yesterday, I found out I’d lost over three thousand calendar entries, and I had lost them five months ago. Fortunately, I had been using an
automated, [online backup service](http://mozy.com) and was able to restore the missing data.

I found out about my loss when I searched for a phone number on my Palm TX that should have been in my calendar, but was missing. I wondered what was up, and started going through my calendar a month at a time. I noticed that calendar entries after Sept 7, 2009 were present, but nearly everything before that was missing.

My Palm TX is synchronized frequently with Windows, and infrequently
with Linux. My Linux copy of the calendar wasn’t going to help me,
because it was missing the calendar entries as well. The same was true
for the Windows copy.

The Palm-to-SD-card backup that happened every night wasn’t going to
help, because it deletes any backups older than seven days old to make
room for the new backups. I needed something that stretched back five
months or more.

The backup of my Linux computer wasn’t going to help me, because I _overwrite_ my old
backups with new copies of the same files, using ‘rsync’.

I thought my Mozy backups worked the same way. Fortunately, I was
partially wrong. Mozy keeps point-in-time backups of some files. I don’t
know how they determine which files to do it for, but they did it for my
Palm Pilot calendar database file. I was able to restore my missing calendar entries, which was a huge relief.

I heartily recommend automated online backups. Manual backups aren’t
done by most people and if they are done, they’re sporadic and
incomplete. My intermittent manual, replace-the-old-files style of
backup to USB hard drive wouldn’t have allowed me to restore the
calendar entries. The $5/month that I spend for online backup was very
worthwhile, and easy to justify considering that it’s less than the cost
of eating out for lunch. It’s less expensive than a cell phone or
monthly internet service.

If you aren’t already doing automated backups, I recommend that you sign up with an online backup service today. Here are some recommendations:

1. [Dropbox](https://www.dropbox.com/) is the most popular. Works on Windows, Mac,
Linux, iPhone.
1. [Spideroak](http://spideroak.com/) is the second most popular. Works on
Windows, Mac, Linux.
1. Alternatives to these, including [Mozy](http://mozy.com), which is what I use for Windows: [http://alternativeto.net/desktop/dropbox/](http://alternativeto.net/desktop/dropbox/).


A word of caution: backups can’t work miracles. If a file was
corrupted BEFORE it was backed up, no backup solution is going to be
able to solve the problem. This is why I make two copies of all photos
from my digital camera BEFORE deleting them from the camera. Still, if
the memory card in the camera contained corrupted images, even this
wouldn’t be good enough.


The missing calendar entries were, in fact, not missing. They were
corrupted. I found this out by running `jpilot-dump -D | sort -r` on my linux computer. I had 3462 blank entries listed on 12/31/1969. The first time
I restored my Windows datebook.dat, and hot-synced, all of the restored
records were again “deleted” because my Palm though it had the more
current copy of those records in 1969. I had to purge the records from
my Palm _before_ hot-syncing with the restored datebook.dat file.


Techrepublic has a [Review of 10 outstanding Linux backup utilities](http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/10things/?p=895), many of which work on
other platforms as well.

Personal solutions (not hosted):

– [Simple Backup Suite](https://help.ubuntu.com/community/BackupYourSystem/SimpleBackupSuite) for Ubuntu and Fedora, which does full and incremental backups, on a schedule or manually. Install it on Fedora by running “`yum install sbackup`”. Configure and run by running “`/usr/bin/simple-backup-config`”
– [fwbackups](http://www.diffingo.com/oss/fwbackups), of which Techrepublic says, “This is, by far, the easiest of all the Linux backup solutions.”
– [Rsnapshot](http://rsnapshot.org/)
– [Duplicity](http://duplicity.nongnu.org/) which is a command line utility, and is recommended by http://rsync.net

Palm T|X Security: Counterproductive

The other day, I was looking through the preferences on my Palm T|X, and I found out that I could enable “Intrusion Protection”. I set it so that it would destroy all data on the TX if I failed to enter my password 25 times. That seemed like enough grace period that I wouldn’t accidentally destroy my data, even if I mis-typed the password several times.

The next day, I let my three-year-old play “Bombel”, and draw on the “Note Pad”. Several minutes later, I noticed that she was pushing buttons willy-nilly at the password screen.

“Oh!”, I thought, “That’s not good.” She was well on her way to exceeding the 25-password attempts and wiping out my data. I knew I could get it back with a hot-sync, but I didn’t want to resort to that.

Palm “intrusion detection” became counterproductive when placed in the hands of a child.


I also tried the Palm TX feature to “Encrypt data when locked”. First, I tried using [AES](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Encryption_Standard) encryption, since it would likely be “stronger” than the default of [RC4](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RC4). AES was unusable — it took minutes to encrypt and decrypt my calendar and address databases. RC4 was barely usable, taking ten seconds or so to encrypt and decrypt my calendar. When I whip out my Palm, I want access to my data immediately, so I disabled encryption.


I’ve chosen convenience over confidentiality for the data on my Palm TX, because I felt that the price to pay for confidentiality was too high. I’m not sure that it’s the right decision. I might feel differently if the Palm is lost or stolen. And so might some of the contacts in the address book. I would re-evaluate my decision if I were required to notify those contacts in the case of a lost Palm.

Palm TX: There’s more than one way to install an application

When I got my Palm TX, I didn’t realize that the Palm Desktop software wasn’t completely compatible with Windows Vista. For example, I can’t install new palm apps via hot syncing. Here are some alternative install paths:

1. Attach the pdb files to an email, and send it to myself. Use VersaMail to retrieve the message, and install the pdb attachments.
1. Use the web browser to download and install a pdb file.
1. Have someone beam it using the IR interface.
1. Have someone send it using bluetooth.
1. Install from an SD card. I haven’t verified that this works.

While I’m at it, it seems like configuring Linux to hotsync with Palm devices can be a pain. As an alternative, I think I’ll get an SD card and use [nvbackup](http://handypalmstuff.sourceforge.net/) to backup to SD, and then copy the backup from SD to my Linux box and use it with JPilot.

There’s more than one way to do things, especially for a Palm equipped with built-in WiFi, bluetooth and an SD expansion card.

Palm TX and Windows Vista

For Christmas, Santa gave me a [Palm TX](http://www.palm.com/us/products/handhelds/tx/) to replace my five-year-old [Sony Clie](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CLI%C3%89). It was more cost effective than a Microsoft Pocket PC device or an [iPhone](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iphone), and it’s backwards compatible with my tried-and-true software.

Unfortunately, the [Palm Desktop](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Desktop) software doesn’t work so well on [Windows Vista](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_Vista). It appears to work, but fails in subtle and non-obvious ways.

– Each time I hotsync, it repeatedly backs up all programs and databases, which takes a long time. _Solution_: I gave user write access to the folder where it was trying create the backup.
– CSV import of multi-line Note fields is broken. I used this feature to import addresses from MIS2PALM. _Solution_: I upgraded to [MIS2PALM version 4](http://www.mis2palm.com/), and configured it to export in vCard format. Palm Desktop properly imports multi-line Note fields from vCard format.
– CSV import forgets field-association. It used to remember this. Again, I’ve switched to vCard format, so this doesn’t get in my way anymore.
– HotSync > FileLink doesn’t work.
– The Beta Palm Desktop that’s supposed to be compatible with windows Vista hung on startup.

I had gone through a tedious download, uninstall, install process to try the beta out. I had another tedious process to uninstall the broken beta, and then I installed the previous Windows XP version, which I downloaded from the website to save time (I didn’t have the Palm TX install CD with me at the time). This was a big mistake, I realized several days later, because the downloaded version was missing several features such as the Media, Note Pad and VersaMail plugins to the Palm Desktop. So, I had to go through another tedious uninstall, reinstall process. Amidst all of this, the Desktop conveniently forgot some of my customized preferences, which required yet more time.

What a rant… maybe my experience will help someone else figure out how to solve some of the issues I’ve faced.

I really do like my new TX. It’s faster than my previous Clie. It has built-in bluetooth, which allows me to share contacts with my wife’s cell phone, or with other people. The built-in WiFi allows me to read the [mobile edition of the Deseret News](http://deseretnewscom/mobile) and the [Salt Lake Tribune](http://m.sltrib.com) with the Blazer browser. It’s not good for much more than that. If it’s handheld web browsing that I had wanted, I would have asked Santa for an iPhone or a [Nokia N800](http://www.nseries.com/n800) internet tablet. For me, the address book, the calendar and the [Plucker](http://www.plkr.org/) e-book reader are the most needed features.