Mac Technology

Backing up your data to the internet

The latest Dreamhost newsletter popped into my inbox yesterday, and amongst all the dry humour was a notice that they are giving all customers a 50GB of free space to use for personal backups. Although technically I have access to over 350GB of storage, their storage terms and conditions forbid its use for anything other than web content.

So now I have yet more storage “in the cloud” (as it is oh so fashionable to call it these days). So what is going to be the best way to access it?

When I created my backup account through the Dreamhost control panel I chose to access my space via SFTP, as any sensible person should do. I couldn’t log in for a while to check the account, but this was entirely my fault. I copied and pasted the username that they issued me, and discovered that I had also copied an errant space as well. A simple mistake we’ve all made from time to time ๐Ÿ™‚

I then remembered about the MacFUSE project, and its GUI, MacFusion. In a nutshell, this allows me to easily integrate my 50GB of backup storage right into my OSX environment. A quick bit of dragging and dropping, and the backup ‘drive’ is listed in the Finder underneath my physical disks. A few ticks of some boxes in MacFusion, and it all connects automatically when I start up my Mac. Lovely!


While it’s nice to have a large chunk of space to use for manual backups, it relies upon you, the user, to transfer files to it. If you are as forgetful as I am, there is software that could handle backups automatically using rsync (such as the amusingly-named ArRsync), what about versioning?

Enter DropBox, who offer 2GB free accounts (or 5GB if you were an early beta tester like me), and soon-to-be-announced 50GB accounts for $9.99/month. The trick here, is that they have developed their own backup client. Upon installing the client, a new directory is created on your system, and on Macs, a Dropbox icon appears in your “Places” sidebar in the Finder. Any files that are put in this folder are automatically uploaded to your Dropbox storage. The trick is that they support versioning, and byte-level changes.

So, if you realise that somewhere along the line you accidentally deleted a paragraph or page of text from a Word document, you could retrieve an earlier version of the document and recover the words. If you are working on a large file, the whole file isn’t uploaded repeatedly, only the parts of the file that have changed. This saves on bandwidth, and makes the whole process almost transparent.

Because the files live on both your computer and the server, there is no delay opening files and no downloading required. Unless, of course, you are away from your machine and wish to access your files via a web browser (which is very easy to do thanks to a simple user interface).

I use DropBox as a bridge between my Mac at work and my Mac at home. I have the client running on both systems. If, for example, I download an album from iTunes, I can put it in my DropBox, and via the magic of sync, when I get home it’s also on my hard drive there.

Good stuff.

The bottleneck: ADSL upload speed

The only thing that is cumbersome about uploading to the cloud is the slow upload speed of ADSL in many parts of the UK. Where I live we don’t have ADSL2+ enabled in our telephone exchange yet, so uploads are squeezed slowly up the line at a speed of 300kbs. This is a big bottleneck, so larger files have to upload overnight. Hopefully this will change in the not-too-distant future.


While I am a big fan of off-site backups via the internet, there are still some things that concern me. One of them is the security of my data. Who can look at my files at the other end? None of the solutions above encrypt your data in any way, and I wouldn’t entrust any personal information to any online service to be honest, but it is something to consider.

If you’re interested in encrypted backups, have a look at Mozy, who offer unlimited space for $4.95/month. I haven’t used them for a while, but it has a good reputation.

Happy backing up!


Fighting Spam

I’ve just found out about – a website set up by Dreamhost that allows you to use a temporary “” email address for anything you like.

So next time you want to download some trial software, or need to submit a valid email address for something, and don’t fancy having a sweepstake about how long it is before your email address is sold to spammers, try it out.

But do bear in mind that all emails sent to any address are publicly viewable on the front page of the website. You can choose any address you like, e.g., and then use the website to filter them for you.



Dreamhost May Newsletter

As readers know, this website it hosted by Dreamhost, a hosting company based in the USA.

I’ve used a fair few hosting companies over the years, and I’m used to the normal turgid corporate newsletters. Dreamhost send newsletters too. But they’re quite unique in their mannerisms, as you’ll see in this excerpt from the May 2007 newsletter where Josh Jones describes his motivation for turning Dreamhost into a carbon neutral hosting company:

Another thing that helps me write newsletters when my bowels are completely compacted is to think about how nice it would be to have some electricity to power my laptop, running water to flush my poop, and wind to cool my unmentionables. It was exactly such thinking that led me to think about wind and water power and how we could use it to power our four servers when the current hamsters die.


Hosting Web Stuff

Carbon Neutral Website Hosting

Green Web Hosting! This site hosted by DreamHost.
Dreamhost have just announced that they are now a carbon neutral organisation. They claim to have offset their carbon emissions through reputable organisations, such as The Green Office.

But as with any “green scheme” there will always be controversy over the methods used to “offset” carbon emissions, and the comments on Dreamhost’s announcement post make interesting reading (certainly from a socialogical standpoint!). The usual “climate change is a lie” arguments are put forward, and one paranoid individual says that: “This global warming scam is a ruse aimed at imposing world-wide socialism”. Wow.

There is certainly a lot of cynicism, but at least some effort is being made to reduce their carbon emissions. It is being done voluntarily by the company (New Dream) with no financial benefit to them:

While the costs to us are significant, theyโ€™re not so high that weโ€™re going to raise our rates, either. At best, we do our own little part to leave a better environment for our children. At worst, we leave a somewhat smaller profit for ourselves every quarter. (from comment 16)

At least their philosophy appears to be in the right place. And it’s giving them some great publicity, as this blog post proves ๐Ÿ˜‰

Full details are available on their blog (do have a good peruse of the comments).

Web Stuff


DreamhostThis website, and most of the others that I run, are now happily sitting on Dreamhost servers.

I’ve been using them since February, and they’ve been great so far. It took me a while to get the Windows hosting paradigm out of my head, and I haven’t looked back. I’ve used their support via email a couple of times and their response has been timely and helpful (both things were my mistake – ho hum).

This blog, for example, was installed with just a couple of clicks using Dreamhost‘s “one click installer”. When a new version of WordPress is released, I can just click the “update” button, and hey presto, my blog is backed up and WordPress is updated.

Other one click installs on Dreamhost:

PHP4 or 5:
WordPress Weblog (v2.0.5) –
phpBB Forum (v2.0.21) –
Gallery Image Album (v2.1.2) –
ZenCart Store (v1.3.6) –
Joomla (Mambo) CMS (v1.0.11) –

PHP5 only:
activeCollab Collaboration (v0.6) –
MediaWiki Wiki (v1.8.2) –

PHP4 only:
Advanced Poll (v2.03) –
WebCalendar Calendar (v1.0.4) –

Not to mention more bandwidth and diskspace than you can eat, with multiple and true sub-domains to boot. And it all seems to run fast enough for me.

If you use the code TOM50 you’ll get $50 off any plan (and I get a referral!) ๐Ÿ™‚