Sunday, 10 May 2020

Xubuntu, fieldwork and deja dup ...

Yesterday afternoon, having failed to find a suitable machine for linux experimentation, I got out my elderly Dell Inspiron 1545, and tried updating it from Ubuntu 18.04 to 20.04.

I tried to do this manually from the command line with the do_release_upgrade command, which insisted that I had to upgrade it by first going via version 19.x.

Well, I got as far as a working version 19 and gave up - basically spending two hours doing a command line upgrade is incredibly boring.

But just before I gave up, I noticed that Ubuntu had acquired an inbuilt backup utility that lets you backup to Google Drive, among other targets.

So, this morning, I downloaded the latest version of Xubuntu - I went for Xubuntu, despite its quirks because I really don’t like the default window manager in Ubuntu, and upgraded the Dell to Xubuntu 20.04. This only took about 20 minutes as the installer realised that there was already an working older install of Ubuntu and only upgraded those things that it had to.

Unfortunately, one of the things it doesn’t install is Deja Dup, the backup utility, but once you realise what the damn thing’s called, installation is utterly straightforward.

Download, select what directories you want backed up, schedule your first backup, and away you go.

It’s important to realise that this is a backup - it’s an encrypted backup of some directories on your machine, not a way of syncing a directory with your Google drive. There are some products that cost money to do that, and various magic spell solutions involving rsync, but there’s no easy to use synchronisation product.

However, what it does mean is that you have got a copy of these important documents backed up in case of disaster.

Now, one of my use cases for a linux machine is for a minimal travel and fieldwork machine - you have your writing tools of choice installed, perhaps a notes manager like Standard Notes, copies of anything important downloaded and cached locally, and otherwise the machine is pretty content free, except for work in progress.

The idea has always been that such machines tend to be older, tend to be used offline some of the time, and are to some extent disposable.

And, as I used to tell students - the data on them has cost more in terms of time and effort to generate than the machine, and in the case of fieldwork, may be irreplaceable. After all, in normal times you can get a basic machine for fieldwork for a couple of hundred bucks.

Not that you intend to lose them, but they’re the machine that gets bounced around in the back of the truck, or taken to some reasonably grubby location. Security checks at airports tend not to be a problem - on the very rare occasions I’ve been asked about a machine, the fact it’s a linux machine excites curiosity more than anything.

I previously used suggest to keeping everything crucial in a directory and religiously backing up the contents to a USB stick, and then uploading the contents of this work directory to some cloud storage - basically the same model that I follow with the Dow’s  Pharmacy documentation project, but having an automated utility like Deja Dup simplifies matters and means you can be assured that your data will be backed up on a regular basis automatically, and given that it keeps the old backups for a designated period, means that you can backtrack if you accidentally delete some crucial files.

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