Making other arrangements for backing-up data

A few months ago I read the article Making Other Arrangements by James Howard Kunstler, and I suppose that might have been the catalyst for my decision to change the way I make back-up copies of my data.

I first started having automated back-ups after losing all the data I wanted to keep: I suppose that’s the way of things. Since that time I have made sure to keep daily back-ups. The method of storage has changed over the years, but the timing has (until recently) remained the same. Rather than have the computer working away at compressing data while I was actually trying to use it, I would have it done overnight.

After all, the computer was already on through the night, downloading bits and pieces of free software from mirror sites. And anyway, it meant I got to boast about how long the computer had been running (yes, there really was a time when I thought like that, and I’m sure that some other people still do).

It was the noise that made me first decide to switch it off at night. The house is so much more peaceful without a computer whirring away. I changed the back-up so that it ran in the evening, and finished by the time I went to bed. As for fetching software updates from mirror sites: well, that can be done during the day. It’s not really any hardship.

Recently my “other arrangements” have gone further still. The back-up runs just as I am finishing work, so there is technically no need for the computer to be on at all in the evening.

It dawned on me as well that it was taking too long to run the back-up because I was compressing the data too much. It didn’t need to be compressed with the slow-but-effective bzip2 utility, so I switched to using the fast-but-good-enough gzip, and even used the “fast” option so it knew not to spend too long trying to squeeze extra bytes out. The longer the compression takes, the more energy is used to do it.

I have a SqueezeBox for playing music, so I do need the computer on for that, but I can switch it on and off as necessary. In fact, I can even switch the machine off while I have lunch, even if I’m in the middle of something. It’s as easy as selecting System ▸ Shutdown and clicking on Hibernate — it suspends to disk, so that next time I switch it on I get right back to where I left off.

Now why didn’t I ever try that out before?

Anyway, the point of all this is that it didn’t take much effort at all to use a lot less electricity. All it really took was for me to become more aware, and change from “I need the computer on all the time” to “Do I really need the computer on right now?”

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