Mstation Book Reviews
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Sat, 02 Jun 2007

Weather Makers

Tim Flannery, The Weather Makers:
Our Changing Planet and What it Means for
Life on Earth, Penguin

You would have had to have been hiding somewhere extremely remote for this book to be the first you've heard about global warming and the like - the White House perhaps.

The author is an Australian scientist and it is ironic in a way that Australia, with all its environmental problems (holes in the ozone layer over Antartica that increase skin cancer rates, drought, salinity problems with soil, and urban pollution) has a government with the same stick-in-the-mud attitude as G.W. Bush and, as if that weren't bad enough, the country has become one of the largest suppliers of raw materials to China. So, it is effectively exporting pollution by the boat load every day. Clearly, more politicians need to read this book! The irony is that in addition to the s-i-t-m politicians there has been a very strong grassroots eco-friendly movement there along with specialised academic courses like Monash University's Masters of Environmental Science program which was started up in the late 1970's.

Tim Flannery does an extremely good job of taking us through the issues and also the scientific background. He tells a good yarn and spices it with anecdotes - in other words, this is no dry tome meant only for the converted with MSci's - nothing less will do in order to achieve the job that needs to be done: Namely, saving the planet.

Flannery explores the makeup of the atmosphere and its movements, and explores some case studies before getting to the science of prediction. And there it is that naysayers can be found to backup whatever lack of action one might want to justify. To most people it seems plain, however, that action must be taken even if there is a slight chance that the climate changes we see before us are not of our causing. To do otherwise would be criminally insane.

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Backup and Recovery (yes you!)

Backup & Recovery, W. Curtis Preston, O'Reilly

About a month ago, my apartment was burgled. Anything electronic that was worth more than 100 euro was taken, including my Mac mini and the two external hard disks which had been plugged into it. The two disks were to ensure that my iTunes and iPhoto libraries would survive a single disk failure. My imagination went as far as head crashes and MTTF and not to burly men in striped jumpers with bags marked "SWAG" bursting through my front door and loading up on all my gear to flog down the flea market.

I had spent a minimum amount of time on my backup strategy - I read the man page for rsync and I was done. Backup & Recovery by W. Curtis Preston goes into (as you might expect from a 720-odd page volume) a bit more detail than that, and covers the main operating systems (Linux, Unix, OS X and Windows). Though as is to be expected, for a book dealing with inexpensive solutions, the Unix flavours get the most attention.

The first couple of chapters deal mainly with the broader view of backups - how much to back up and when, what type of backup, testing your backups and keeping track of what you've backed up. The sort of thing I should have thought about as I smugly connected a second 500GB disk to my Mac mini.

Chapter 3 covers backing up and restoring using the basic utilities and is a nice introduction to utilities like cpio, dd and tar, dump and restore for commercial Unix systems, and Windows System Restore.

Also covered are the popular Open Source backup and recovery tools like Amanda, Bacula and BackupPC. There's a section on commercial solutions, another on database backups and one on bare-metal recovery.

Backup and recovery is not a sexy subject, but Preston manages to inject some (geek) humour here and there with anecdotes about backups that went awry, restores that didn't work and incorrect procedures that were followed to the letter for years.

Whatever type of system you administer and if you have that slightly uneasy "I have no backups" feeling (it's alright, you're not alone), this is a useful and comprehensive book to help you with a strategy. Even if you think your backup solution is bomb-proof, this book might make you reconsider.

As Preston points out, a lot of this book has been based on painful lessons that others have learned. So remember to disguise at least one hard disk as a flowerpot or something. (Ciaron Linstead)

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