Rsync: Website Backups Made Easy

23 December 2006

Greg has been persistently encouraging me to post in this space a few of the useful technical tidbits I have figured out over the years. So, for those who might find it interesting, here is a simple rsync flashcard I made some time ago when I was doing a bit of Sys-op work on our (currently hibernating) website, Music For Dozens.

If you ever want to backup your website (or any other internet-accessible files), and assuming you have access to the UNIX command line shell on the host machine, rsync is the way to go. According to it’s homepage, rsync is “an open source utility that provides fast incremental file transfer.” In other words, it is the perfect tool for quickly copying a large number of files from one place to another. It can tunnel its data through ssh, which is generally considered de rigueur for security on the net, and is quite fast (particularly when making backups, as it only [incrementally] transfers the data that has changed since the last transfer).

To use rsync, you will need to log in to the machine you are trying to preserve (preferably using ssh for safety’s sake). Then, type something like this:

rsync -avz -e ssh relative/path/to/dir user@

When typing this UNIX incantation to invoke rsync, you will need to have at hand

  • the location of the files or folders you want to send [indicated here as “relative/path/to/dir”],
  • your backup machine’s IP address (or domain name [for example: “”]),
  • a user account name on that machine [“user”],
  • the appropriate password (which rsync will ask you in a few seconds after you hit “return”, assuming you do not have some better way of making the two computers trust each other over ssh),
  • and the full path of where you want to put the backup files [“/remote/target/folder”].

(Replace the information in [brackets] with the real stuff or you will be out of luck!)

Remember to include that pesky at sign (@) between the remote username and remote machine address, as well as the even-easier-to-overlook colon (:) between that address and the data’s destination path. Also, don’t put any slashes (/) at the end of these locations, even if you are sending folders instead of files (rsync has no trouble with folders; you don’t have to compress the directory with zip or tar before sending it).

Here is the command line template as a (hopefully better annotated) flashcard, fully suitable for framing:

rsync flashcard
(My thanks to Greg for making this image suitable for public distribution and for contributing a good chunk of the explanatory language.)

Moving Atoms

5 October 2006

I am in the process of moving to downtown Los Angeles after fourteen relatively pleasant (although strikingly boring, on the whole — which is, I suppose, the whole point) years in The OC. I have never lived anywhere as long as I have lived in this particular house, and everyone I know has assured me that I, in particular, should dread the physical task of packing and moving. It is true; I have a lot of stuff. I have generally claimed, though, that the bulk of my possessions are books (and their oak vertical coffins). Now that I have packed a significant proportion of my worldly goods, I will admit that there were also a lot of miscellaneous odds and ends lying about the place. Nevertheless, the 108 large cardboard book boxes and 31 now empty bookcases testify in favor of my original assertion, but also stand as weighty markers of our incomplete transition from atoms to bits.

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A Gmail-MacOSX Tip

6 September 2006

Greg has been suggesting that this is a good forum to share brief tidbits of computer wisdom whenever I run across them. (That wonderful resource of Macintosh advice, MacOSXHints, might really be the more appropriate place, and for all I know this hint is up there.)

So, here is a relatively simple, but very annoying, problem: If you use gmail or some other web-based e-mail service with your web browser (say, Safari or Firefox, as opposed to a dedicated mail client like Apple Mail or Entourage, both of which take care of this problem for you automatically), and you try to attach a document to a message, you may well find that the browser will neither save nor send that message. Indeed, it may look like gmail is trying to send the file (with its little red javascript “saving” notice in the top right corner of the window), but it will never complete the task.

If you have been left hanging in this manner, I have an explanation for you (and, as a bonus, a really simple solution too!).

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29 June 2006

Like the earth itself, Al Gore seems to be taking a lot of heat lately. Perhaps this is because folks on the left are not supposed to talk about the End Of The World. Maybe it is the particular means of apocalypse that is so disturbing to Gore’s critics: Humans are usurping the divine right to end it all, and, worse, they are doing it in the one way that has been explicitly ruled out in Scripture. Does this eschatological trend signal a disturbing theology of the trickster God who promises not to bring about another flood, but then mischievously stands by while we gradually accrue the power to bring it on ourselves?

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Films from my trip to San Francisco

22 June 2006

Here is what I saw during my recent visit to my great aunt Merkie in San Francisco:

Criminal Code B+
Fascinating early Depression jailhouse drama heavily invested in a lost emotional world of empathy for the reprobate. The incestuous shades in the relationship between the warden (the former DA who put most of the men in the joint, played by Walter Huston) and his devoted daughter makes one think Robert Towne might have seen this small Howard Hawks B-feature before ginning up his part for Huston’s son in Chinatown.

Night World A-
A wonderful, very short, pre-code masterpiece. {{It lasts only an hour, although there is far more here than in most 2½ hour Hollywood Summer fx commodities.}} Superb direction makes one forget that this gem is set entirely within a single New York nightclub. Rarely has pure classical B-movie formula looked so assured and provided escapist pleasure so effortlessly. And the best thing about this 1931 jewel is that it features a slew of peripheral African American characters (including one with a serious minor part) and yet it is not painful or embarrassing to watch.

Turn Left At The End Of The World B
Israel’s Negev desert circa 1969 where immigrants (drawn to the wasteland by unfulfilled promises) endure mindless industrial work (until they strike), an utterly desolate environment, and the vicious intrigues and transgressions of a too-small community. The vision of [English-speaking] Indian and [French-speaking] Moroccan Jews forced to merge their very different styles of propriety, as seen through the eyes of two teenaged young women who become fast friends, lends this film its interest (along with a Cricket sub-plot, which never fails with me).

An Inconvenient Truth B+
Al Gore’s Keynote presentation works surprisingly well as a movie. My criticism would be with the slide show itself, which is chillingly effective, yet flattens its dramatic arc more than one might expect. The narrative is one of mounting evidence more than compelling emotional setup and payoff. In fact, this is remarkably unpropagandistic, abjuring so many of the 20th century’s refined techniques of audience manipulation in favor of a style more like Current TV than Leni Riefenstahl.

The Proposition B+
Nick Cave’s “Vegemite Western” {{Greg and I collaboratively came up with this one.}} set in a very desolate Outback Australia. Compelling performances amidst a dark and dusty frontier universe of betrayal and violence between stiff British Empire lawmen who look like they stepped over from Jackie Chan’s Project A and ruthless criminals straight out of Sergio Leone. You know that born-again Cave has written the script when you look around and realize that you can’t find any unambiguous Christian redemption for anyone in this moral universe.


19 June 2006

An airport waiting area, Long Beach, California, densely crowded with people waiting for planes, many of which were running late despite perfectly clear, although hot and oddly humid, weather. Packed so tightly together, some people, such like myself, retreat into their own private reserve as folks often do when traveling, but others seem more convivial. Three people in this latter category: A middle-aged Mexican American man with a prodigious mustache (who looked more than a bit like Benicio del Toro’s depiction of Oscar Zeta Acosta), a fairly young African American guy, forced by convoluted circumstance to fly standby, with a paisley Yankees baseball cap and an easy, cheerful laugh, and, at the center of things, a young white woman, who had a hint of an Oklahoma or Texas accent mixed with her SoCal slang, sporting something like a Pat Benatar haircut. They have all three obviously been sitting here for a while; there is a shared a conspiratorial rapore between them by now. I am fiddling with my iPod all this while, having just sat down in their midst, when I notice the girl showing off to the older man a tattoo on her wrist — a fairly small calligraphic character: “It means ‘beautiful girl’ in Chinese,” she explains.

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Setting all this up

15 June 2006

I have to admit that this description of what it took to set up will be a lot shorter than it would have been if it were not for Dreamhost, our web hosting provider. They provide very effective tools to automagically set up the blogging software (WordPress), discussion forums (phpBB), and even a full-fledged wiki (MediaWiki, the same software Wikipedia uses). Dreamhost’s tools effectively require no configuration beyond giving names to things and deciding where the new service should reside on the hosted disk. So, as a result, we seem to be good to go!
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13 June 2006

This is the first WordPress blog post of the new network! More to come…