As you’ve hopefully read I’m pretty anal about backing up my computer and my websites.  I’ve been in the market for a new 2nd online location for my backup files.  Over the years I’ve heard fantastic stories regarding Amazon S3 as a wonderfully inexpensive and reliable  storage system and I’ve been anxious to give it a try.   Add to the fact that you can get 5GB of storage for free made it even more tempting.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find any easy way to FTP, SFTP, SSH, rsync, or otherwise get files over to my Amazon S3 buckets, and my tech chops are relatively limited :(

Fortunately a couple brilliant people pointed me in a direction that led me to a really great option for storing my backups onto S3!  Here are some links, details and steps that will hopefully help others in their search!

Web Resources:

Basic Setup / Process:

  1. Use a combo of the daily MySQL backup script and other backup processes to create backup files of my databases, sites, etc.
  2. Copy (sync) the backups to Amazon S3 using s3cmd
  3. Auto archive backups older than 60 days from Amazon S3 to Amazon Glacier
  4. Delete local server backups older than 10 days.

I get 5 GB of storage free on S3 for the first year.  At most I’ll probably use an additional 5 – 10 GB, but even this is only about $1 – $2 a month!  I’ll then backup maybe 10-30 GB to Glacier which is a whopping $0.01 per GB… YES, a PENNY PER GIG!

Total monthly backup cost: About $3.00

You can do your own pricing calculations using Amazon’s calculator here:

How I set it all up:

First I read and watched all the resources listed above.  I also have a basic knowledge of PuTTY and unix commands.

Next I signed up with Amazon s3 and created a bucket (plenty of info on the web for this process.  I suggest searching youtube).

After I was setup with Amazon I installed s3cmd on my VPS… well, I had my VPS techs do it, but here are the commands they used:

bash-3.2# cd /etc/yum.repos.d
bash-3.2# wget
bash-3.2# yum install s3cmd

Next I did some tests to make sure I could access S3 using s3cmd by doing simple commands like:

s3cmd ls s3://mybackupbucket

I then decided to dive in and sync one of my huge backup directories with a bucket on S3:

s3cmd -r sync /home/account/backups s3://s3cmd ls s3://mybackupbucket

Next thing I knew, I had files flying from my VPS over to Amazon S3!  The only thing that surprised me was the speeds weren’t nearly as fast as I would have liked / expected.  I was transferring files at an average rate of 250 kB/s.  I’m not sure if that a limit on Amazon’s side or my VPS.  I did notice that I could open up additional PuTTy sessions and run more sync commands which would run at 250 kB/s, so multiple threads running in parallel didn’t seem to slow things down.

Right now I’m manually running the sync command, but my plan is to setup a cron job that will run the following commands nightly:

  • My daily MySQL backup script
  • Sync with Amazon S3: s3cmd -r sync /home/account/backups s3://s3cmd ls s3://mybackupbucket
  • Delete Old Files: find /path/to/files* -mtime +5 -exec rm {} \;

I’m far from being an expert with this stuff… which may actually help others that are at the same level of technicity that I am.

So, what do you think about this backup process and using this system for storing large files on Amazon S3?   If you have any thoughts or comments on what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, please post them below!

UPDATE 4/7/14:

The backup system is working great!  My charges for the past few months have been:

  • November:$0.12
  • December:$0.22
  • January:$0.35
  • February:$0.59
  • March: $0.80

That’s CRAZY!

Here’s a screenshot of my most recent bill:


You can see that most of the charge is from my usage in Glacier. What’s crazy is that Amazon just announced a drop in storage pricing!


I’ve been SUPER happy with my Hyundai Elantra.  I can’t believe it’s been over 12 years since I did my geeky car purchase calculations and bought it new!

Unfortunately over the past year I’ve noticed that it’s been harder and harder to unlock my car and disengage the alarm using both of my keyless remote FOB’s.  At first I thought my batteries were dead.  After a handful of futile attempts at replacing the battery, I realized there was another problem and I needed at least one replacement FOB.

I called the local Hyundai dealers and all of them wanted $180+ for a new remote and to also program it!  I can get the units on eBay for $40, but I still have to pay the dealer $90 to program it.  Yes, I know you can program these yourself. I’ve purchased and programmed these keyless remotes for other cars, but in all my research I discovered that for a handful of reasons, doing so with the Hyundai was a total pain.  I figured I’d just eat the expense and get a new one from the dealer.

Well, since I’d be getting a new one, I might as well open up one of the ones I had and see what was going on.  I disassembled the keyless remote and discovered that the super tiny SMT (Surface-mount technology) switch was no longer working.  The little button on the switch wouldn’t depress at all.

480558_10200245552327320_1038965929_nCould it really be just this tiny little switch that is keeping both of my $180 remotes from working?  I’ve been so crazy busy over the last 4-5 years that I haven’t done much of any electric work or soldering.   The thought of fixing this itty bitty switch was just too exciting to pass up (click the picture to the left with a dime for size reference).

I went to Fry’s Electronics & Radio Shack and neither had a switch even remotely close to being small enough.   So, I do as I usually do in these cases… rush home to ebay!   I was surprised that within 8 minutes of typing in “SMT Switch” into my search I found an absolutely EXACT replacement!  I got 5 (yes FIVE) “”Tactile Push Button Switch Momentary Tact 4x4x1.5mm 4-pin SMD Surface Mount” of these from china for $0.99 + $1.50 shipping.  Can you believe it… five of these shipped from China for $2.49… CRAZY!

I’ve never been great at soldering regular stuff let alone super tiny micro switches.   Compounding the problem, I don’t have a very steady hand.  How in the world would I be able to remove the soldered switch and replace it with a new switch without damaging all the other stuff on the PCB?

I did what I always do in this case and went to YouTube!   Here is a great video I found on desoldering and soldering tiny SMT parts.

Did I mention how small these switches are (next to a quarter)?

I was in the mood to do this right, so I went shopping and got a few extra bits:

  1. KESTER951 no clean liquid flux – Used to clean the parts and help ensure good thermal transfer while removing and adding the switches)
  2. Illuminated Multipower LED Binohead Magnifier – Totally geeky, but I was amazed at how necessary it was when looking at these super small parts.
  3. Push button vacuum solder removing tool – Ok, I already had this part as well as my soldering iron

When I finally had everything together I got to work!  My plan was to practice on some old computer cards (network adapters) that I had kicking around.  I worked on them in an attempt to hone my soldering skills, but my impatience got the best of me.  I hate to admit it, but I’ve really screwed stuff like this up in the past by being impatient.   I quickly learned that I wasn’t going to become a small solder master any time soon, but more importantly I learned that I could possible use my tiny soldering snips to just remove the leads to the switch!

First I cleaned off the switch using the liquid flux and a toothbrush.  I’m REALLY glad I did this since there was some green gunk all over the switch… possibly some kind of greese for the switch put on at the factory?

With my super geekly LED head magnifier on I slightly pried the switch up a super tiny amount using a sharp soldering pick tool.  It was just enough to get my snip in there to clip the leg.   Next I did the other side, and from there I was able to bend the switch up.


Once I had these two legs detached I thought I’d give removing them a try using the soldering iron… and surprisingly it worked great and I didn’t (at least I believed) fried anything in the process!

Here is the board with the switch removed:



smt-switch-5-newThe next step was to position the new switch and solder it into place.  This sounded simple enough, but trying to maneuver this tiny thing into the perfect position proved harder than I expected.   Once again I added some flux and after a bit of finagling I was able to get the switch into place.

Using some tape to hold the whole board into place and my finger to hold the switch into place (I figured the threat of burning my finger would help keep my hand a bit more steady with the iron).  :)     Surprisingly, the legs of the new switch soldered down to the board using the previous switches solder without any problem at all… it was almost too easy!


Here are my final results:


I’m VERY pleasant surprised at how it turned out… especially that I didn’t burn myself or destroy the board in my impatience!!

… of course, none of this matters if the thing doesn’t work.   For all I know, any number of things could have gone wrong, including

  • Wrong switch type.  Just because it looked like a match maybe wouldn’t guarantee the inside circuitry was the same
  • Wrong switch orientation
  • Overheated the board or neighbor circuits and fried them
  • Broke any of the existing circuit paths or possibly made a bridge circuit
  • etc.

Almost holding my breath I put everything back together and pushed the button.  The super perfect tactile response of the brand new button felt fantastic.  The other still functioning original button on the board provided a great contrast between what a new button should feel like!   Next it was out to the car for the real test!

It worked PERFECTLY!   The car unlocked with such response I almost felt like the clicky clicky of my new button was somehow sending the unlock command faster than the original OEM FOB button!   Seriously, I can’t convey how nice the new button feels when depressed.  In fact, it felt so nice that I was tempted to pull out the lock button and replace it too!  Fortunately my sound mind prevailed and the adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” came to mind, so I left it alone!

What I did do to satisfy my craving for more fixin’ was to grab my other remote with it’s crappy unlock button and replace it as well.   This one went even smoother and I was able to skip the clipping process and go directly to unsolder all four legs!  This left me with an even cleaner surface with which to work!

So, I’m pretty excited and kinda proud of myself for pulling this off.   This adventure definitely ended up being way more about the process and the “Hey, I fixed this!” than about the money, and I’m really glad I gave this a go!

As I posted a year ago we added solar power  to our house.  Well, I noticed that our panels have a bit of a dusty haze / layer on them (the joys of living on a dirt road).  I’ve cleaned them many times but with significant daily variations in production due to daylight hours, cloud-cover, haze, smog, temperature, etc.  it’s almost impossible to isolate the impact that cleaning the panels has on the performance.

Well, I woke up one morning realizing that there may be a way to really test how cleaning the panels impacts performance!   Read more

As many of my site visitors know, I own/manage a handful of internet forums including:

One of the constant problems with managing a forum is dealing with spammers.   Spammers come in many shapes and forms, but here are the two main types: Read more


This is the second part in my story of installing a solar photovoltaic system in the Northern California Bay Area.  You can also read Part 1, Solar Panels / Energy.  Read more

Part 1 of 2  of my decision process and subsequent installation of a solar energy system (see part 2, Solar Power Installation California Bay Area).

VERY long story short: We’re getting a 3.9 kw (DC) solar photovoltaic system installed on our house that should have a “payback” of 8 – 10 years.

Now, all the sordid details:  Read more

HomeMade Monitor Wall Mountmonitor-wall-mount-vesa-4

A week ago I decided to upgrade to a new 23″ flat panel monitor (since I spend about 80% of my waking hours at the computer).  I was thinking about buying a wall mount, but I discovered two problems:

  • Most didn’t extend from the wall as far as I needed (about 18 inches)
  • The prices for the ones that extended only about 13″ were $60 +  Read more

I’m sure you guys know about that “middle button” that is hiding underneath your scroll wheel on your mouse, right?  Usually it is set to some useless feature like “auto scroll”…  I mean, come on… who uses auto scroll anyway?   Well, the very first time I discovered that button (and how useless it truly was) I opted to change the default behavior.  Instantly I fell in love with the “minimize all” command and mapped that to my middle mouse button.   Read more

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At, we recognize that privacy of your personal information is important. Here is information on what types of personal information we receive and collect when you use and visit, and how we safeguard your information. We never sell your personal information to third parties.  Read more

MySQL Database Backup I host and manage about 50 different websites.   The vast majority are static sites for friends and family that don’t require any backup processes above the daily backup provided by my webhost.   In the 8 years that I’ve been running websites I’ve been with about 12 hosting companies and even though my current server has had amazing uptime and backup availability I don’t like to have all my golden eggs in one basket.   This is especially true with the 5-8 sites that I manage that have very dynamic content populated into MySQL Databases including forums, blogs, etc.  Read more

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