Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Android Log Viewer

One of my latest favorite discoveries in the Android market is aLogcat, a must-have for Android developers and power users, who want to know more about what is going on on the device. It is named after the logcat command which can be run in the debug shell, typically via the adb tool from the Android SDK, which requires the device to be connected to a host PC through a USB cable.

aLogcat allows to display a log console on the device itself, color coded by levels with options to filter by levels or arbitrary substrings. By default the console updates continuously with new messages as they appear in the log, but it can also be frozen to allow scrolling back through the log history without interfering screen updates. Since logs can also be sent via email, it subsumes the functionality of earlier log collector apps.

Now that the number of devices, configurations and version of Android are exploding, it is less and less likely that a developer can reproduce a particular problem, since they may only occur in particular device configurations to which the developer does not have access to. Tools like aLogcat are often the only way how developers can remotely diagnose a problem, with the help of a user who can reproduce it and is willing to invest some time in getting it resolved.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Online Backup

Since we recently moved, my current backup system has become some what undone. I have not been able yet, to reactive my linux home-server, since neither its power input nor its TV signal output works in the new environment. But since backing up to an aging piece of low-cost hardware running an obsolete version of an OS, which I also happen to use for experimentation does not leave the kind of warm fuzzy feelings which one typically expects from a backup solution, maybe it was time again to look around for another solution.

From a maintainable and reliability point of view, it would be better to store the backups in the cloud, rather than on a single computer in the same room. On the other hand, sending the data out of the room opens up some serious privacy concerns

The solutions for online backups on mac are still a bit limited. There are some portable solutions using Amazon's S3 cloud storage service or the very open-protocol based rsync.net service, which could have supported an alternate target for my existing home-grown script. But since I wanted to primarily backup my media library (music, photos and videos), the storage cost added up to some real money very quickly.

In the end, I started using a commercial solution from CrashPlan, which has both a mac client and a matching online storage service (single datacenter located in the US). The basic client which supports both Mac and Linux is free (as in free beer) for personal use and there is a free trial for the online storage, which otherwise has a flat-rate pricing of about $50 per year.

The backup client runs continuously in the background and tries to be nice to both the CPU and network so that the computer should still be usable, even if there is a backup going on. In addition to the online service, CrashPlan can also do backups to attached hard-drives or in some peer-peer fashion to other computers running the same client.

So far the system has survived the baptism by fire of doing an online backup of my media-library over about 10 days of continuous backup activity, surviving a reboot and several network disruptions without a hitch.

Obviously the quality of backup is measured by how reliably the data could be restored after a disaster, but judging from the experience with the initial backup, the solution seems solid enough to give it a try for a while.