Backblaze – 2021

A brief history of backups and myself

I am going to take a few moments and discuss backing up your computer data. This is something that all experts say everybody should do, but it has not necessarily been easy throughout the years that computers have become ubiquitous.

My first job was working on the Apple IIGS. The first few weeks, I did my work with only floppy disks. My first hard drive was called a “Sider” (get it? Apple Sider? Those 1980’s people were so clever). This thing was loud; it sounded like an airplane when it was running, and it make loud, clunking sounds when you actually read or wrote to it. The linked article said that the capacity was 10 MB, but I thought my first one was 5 MB. And only 3.8 was usable. We were using ProDOS, the file system that GS/OS ran on, but this hard drive had non-removeable partitions for DOS 3.3 (the Apple OS; not the IBM/MS OS), Pascal, and CP/M. You could make those partitions small, but they still took up a lot of space you could not get back.

The worst things about these drives is that their failure rate was pretty high. Mine failed early in my tenure at StyleWare, since it was a hand-me down from somebody who had gotten a bigger more modern drive. I did not yet have a huge amount of source code written, but what I did have was on a floppy disk. We did not yet have file servers on our AppleTalk network, and even if we had had them, the IIGS would not have been able to write to them. I got that drive replaced with a CMS 20 MB drive that was faster, bigger, and quieter.

One January day, Apple sent us a new version of GS/OS (I think they sent us a 15-pack of sets of floppies). While exploring what in the new OS, I found a command-line utility to back up a hard drive to a set of floppy disks. Sweet!

We had hundreds of 3.5″ floppy disks sitting in our storeroom. At one point, it was cheaper to buy them ourselves and send them to the manufacturer producing our packages than it was for the manufacturer to buy them. This changed at some point, so we had a ton of them left. So, I grabbed a bunch, and started the backup.

46 floppy swaps later, my drive was fully backed up, and I took those disks home. The next day, I ran an incremental backup that produced 1 floppy, and I took it home as well.

The next day after that, I arrived at work to chaos. Somebody had broken into our office the previous night. They stole the computers off the desks of four of us, including mine, and they trashed our offices while they were at it. The front door deadbolt had been pushed through the aluminum door frame. It was a big mess.

But they also stole my hard drive. Boss man got on the phone and ordered new machines for everybody, but they were going to take at least 1 day, if not 2, to get there. Two of the other developers started packing boxes to help out our shipping backlog. The other one that was not me wasn’t feeling well anyway, and had called in sick.

I had worked two summers previously doing data entry. For those people too young to know, there was vast system of papers and cards and the like that the industry wanted computerized, and they hired people to take this data off of the paper and type them into databases. I had done that with an private jet airplane broker a couple of summers earlier. Now, I looked around, and saw that we had hundreds, if not thousands, of registration cards that had not been processed. So that is what I did that day.

The next day, we got our new machines, with new 60 MB hard drives (wow!). One of the developers had no backup of his source code at all. He reverse engineered source code from compiled object files on an as-needed basis. The other two affected developers had both old electronic versions of their source plus more recent printouts. They had to type in the changes from their printouts.

I had my 47 disk backup. I ran the restore program, and a couple of hours later, I was back up and running.

After Claris bought StyleWare and I moved to the Mac, I setup a product called Retrospect Remote to back up our source code database, using a tape drive. This lasted a couple of years, but the support of the tape drive was a problem, and if you don’t have a drive, you can’t restore.

We really did not have backups at work at that point.

I finally bought my own personal computer in 1990, and used a lot of hand-copying to floppy disc to back up my own data, as the backup software available for Mac was very expensive. In 1994, I replaced my trusty Mac IIci with a PowerBook Duo 250 with a Duo Dock. The Duo Dock had an 80 MB drive in it. I was using this drive as a backup, but before long, I was also using it as a primary drive, as the Duo itself had a small drive in it.

I was trying to move everything around and set up a more reliable and easier backup scheme, but I got the sequence wrong, and I formatted the Dock’s drive with no backup. I lost all of my financial databases and spreadsheets, source code for earlier projects, and some personal writing projects, both prose and music.

I started being much more disciplined about backing things up and having backup strategies after that.

Fast-forward to 2010: I had Dropbox, and I used it to backup my most critical financial files. I had an external drive that I backed my home directory, or at least, most of it, as the drive was smaller than my home directory. I bought a RAID array to backup everything to using Apple’s Time Machine.

I made the mistake of encrypting the RAID array, however, and when one of the drives failed, I lost the backups completely, so I had a few weeks while I had no full backup while I replaced the drive, rebuilt the array, and then backed everything up to it again.

Not something you see everyday…

On Labor Day weekend in 2010, there was a huge wildfire in Bastrop, TX. We weren’t near Bastrop, which got most of the national coverage, but we had a fire of our own in Steiner Ranch in Austin. We had about 30 minutes to evacuate the house. I grabbed a laptop and my external drive, and we left for a few days, not knowing what was going to happen to our house. When we returned, the house was fine. However, this scared me, as there were 24 houses lost in Steiner Ranch that day. If our house had burned, a LOT of my data would have gone with it.

So I started looking for online backup. I settled on CrashPlan, which I had heard about on a podcast. I got it installed and started my first backup. At the time, I had AT&T U-verse, which had an upload speed of 12 Mps. This was going to take a while…

It took months before I had a complete backup. And along the way, it had some problems. It is a Java program, which means the amount of RAM it can use is set beforehand. Well, that setting was too low for my dataset, and I had to Google around until I found the answer to how to increase the RAM. You have to launch a hidden console, and type commands. Don’t know why this is not just part of the settings for the application.

In 2015, Apple introduced Apple Music. One of the features is that you could combine it with iTunes Match and have one big library with everything you already had in the Music app combined with everything you add with Apple Music. This was exactly what I was hoping for, and when it worked, it’s fantastic.

Unfortunately, there were some serious problems. Jim Dalrymple, a famous tech-blogger about all things Apple, had major problems and wrote this article that went viral (“Apple Music is a nightmare and I’m done with it“). Famously, the people at Apple contacted him and managed to salvage most of the lost tracks.

That’s nice when you are a media mogul. I discovered that iTunes had deleted about 2500 tracks. Now, I had the original CDs as backups for most of them, but they were in storage.

Crash Plan did not help me because it had not finished my first backup yet. Time Machine had already deleted the backups with the known good copies of the missing tracks. Fortunately, I had hard drives archived in my safe deposit box. After writing a lot of hacky shell scripts, I managed to restore my music library. I think.

I finally got tired of Crash Plan’s problems, and tried out Backblaze. They were expensive, but were highly recommended. By this time, I had abandoned U-Verse, and had Time Warner Cable/Spectrum/Charter internet, and my speeds were much better. Crash Plan was still very slow.

I installed the trial of Backblaze, and it backed up everything in about 3 days.


There were some gotchas. The default plan only keeps deleted files for six months; you have to pay to keep older versions. Of course as time goes on, that bill grows….

But this is an amazing product.

Now, I use iCloud for critical/recent files, Time Machine backup to a local disk and to a remote server in my house, archive hard drives that I rsync to and throw in my safe deposit box every few months, and Backblaze.

So, when I got this email, I was very excited:

Hope all is well! I have an awesome opportunity in that I think might be a great fit for your background. Backblaze is a world leader in computer backup and cloud storage and they are aggressively hiring a strong Senior Software Engineer who has strong backend coding experience in java. They are located in San Mateo, CA but are also looking to hire 100% employees. 

Check it out and let me know your thoughts. Thanks and I look forward to hearing back!

(I assumed correctly that she meant “100% remote employees”).

I responded very quickly:

I would be interested in looking a job description. I am a Backblaze customer and am impressed with the product.

She responded, asked for a resume, and we set up time for a phone call. In that call, I told her that I was basically happy at Indeed, but was very impressed with Backblaze’s technology, and was intrigued by working there.

I then got to talk to a phone screener at Backblaze. They gave me a homework assignment. I had to sign an NDA that I would not disclose details of that homework assignment publicly, but I can say that it was a simple program to use Backblaze’s B2 API to do a simple operation over multiple files. It was a lot of fun to do! I got it done in a few hours and sent it in.

They first had me interview for a position for their Mac client. However, when I found out what the architecture of the Mac client was, I was not super-impressed. The core engine seemed awesome, but the the basic user-interface code seemed very dated.

So, they set me up to interview for a server position. They worked with me to spread the sessions out over a couple of weeks.

The sessions themselves were interesting. The most challenging for me personally was the session testing my knowledge of concurrent programming. I had fun, but it’s definitely not my strong muscle.

After I went through the entire interview, the recruiter contacted me, and said that they would not make me an offer.

I have been thinking a lot as to why that might be. There could be multiple reasons:

  • My programming skills just weren’t good enough. I already mentioned the concurrent programming session, where I know that my skills aren’t as developed as I would like, but it could be that I did not do well on other sessions and did not realize it.
  • A lot of people asked why I wanted to leave Indeed. I responded that I was happy there, but I was really intrigued by Backblaze. Plus, with the VP I talked to, I mentioned my dissatisfaction with the fact that I hadn’t had a raise since I had been there.

For whatever reason, they did not hire me. I learned stuff during the interview, and generally had a good time, but it’s always disappointing when somebody tells you “No”.

One thought on “Backblaze – 2021

  1. Pingback: Recruited By Tech – Backblaze – 2021 – WONDERFUL PORTAL

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