Beware, Time Machine users!

8 July 2008

My MacBook hard drive recently started making strange clunking noises and I knew at once it was a goner. I felt a brief surge of panic at first, as I’d just got back from holiday and imported a load of photos, but I had done a Time Machine backup to an external drive just a couple of days ago. It should all be saved.

Once I’d got a new hard drive sorted out, I thought, it was going to be a doddle getting back to where I was two days ago. How wrong I was!

 

First point: don’t try to save space by opting not to back up system files (as I did). 

If you’ve backed up everything, you can choose to restore everything by booting from the Leopard DVD and choosing this option from the Utilities menu. If not, you find you can’t even get at your Time Machine backup without choosing to back up your virgin OS X installation to that disk.

I haven’t dared do that, because if you choose to start backing up a clean installation with Time Machine, what happens to your pre-hard disk failure backup? It’s not going to get deleted but presumably it becomes not the latest backup, but the last backup but one, which I assume complicates the restoration process yet further.

 

Second point: you can restore user accounts via the Migration Assistant in Utilities after you’ve got done a clean install and upgraded the system to the latest version, but this option doesn’t let you restore other data such as Applications.

If this option is made clear by Apple, I didn’t find it in any of the support documents I read. Instead, I stumbled across it during the first reboot and system setup after a clean install of OS X. At this stage, it does offer you the option of restoring non-user account files such as Applications – except it doesn’t work! When I chose it, everything froze. 

So, to cut a long story short, I set up a temp account, upgraded to 10.5.4 and then clicked on the Migration Assistant in Utilities with the external drive with the Time Machine backup mounted. This gives you the option of restoring entire user accounts but nothing else.

 

Third point: did Time Machine really backup your account properly last time you did it? Check if you’ve done a lot of precious stuff.

So after numerous failed attempts and much swearing, I’d done a clean install, upgraded it and then restored the user accounts from an external drive using Migration Assistant. I thought I was finally back to where I was when the hard disk failed about a week ago.

I logged back in to my restored account and opened up iPhoto. We’d got back from holiday a few days before the drive conked out, and as I had had a new camera to play with, I’d taken loads of photos that I had spent quite some time sorting out in iPhoto. Fortunately, I’d done one Time Machine backup since returning from the holiday. It would all have been backed up.

It wasn’t.

Time Machine had restored me not to the latest version but one more than two weeks old. When I opened up the Backup folder, I saw why: the latest backup had failed and produced an XXXXXX.inprogress file. 

The .inprogress file can be opened by right-clicking and choosing Show Package Contents – and the latest iPhoto libary with all the holiday photos was there. But simply it copying over didn’t work – iPhoto produced a “you don’t have permission” error when I tried to open it, which no amount of playing with permissions would fix.

Eventually I discovered the way round this. You have to copy files from the .inprogress folders to your account using Automator rather than dragging and dropping. Don’t ask me why it works but it does.

 

Time waster

So how many hours did it take me to figure this out? I hate to think. I was hopping mad with Apple at the time, but the question I had to ask myself was this – without Time Machine, would my last backup have been two days before my hard drive failed?

Honest answer: no, probably more like two months at best.  

So Time Machine did save my bacon. But restoring my system wasn’t simple, it wasn’t quick and it certainly wasn’t fun. Apple, I hope you can make it a lot better!

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Qualified to lead?

28 March 2008

After the GW Bush debacle, many of us in the reality-based community support the idea of a science debate for the USS presidential candidates (Science Debate 2008). But it seems to me this idea doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Would you be happy getting brain surgery from a lawyer? Do you want chief executives determining minimum wage levels? Would you trust a professional soldier to determine whether defence budgets should be cut in favour of education? Should religious nutters like Tony Blair be allowed to determine scienctific or economic policies?  

It seems utterly bizarre to me that democratic countries choose to elect as leaders people who completely lack any knowlegde or understanding of key subjects, from the importance of randomised controlled trials to the Cuban missile crisis. Civil servants from China to Britain have to undergo tough exams, yet their leaders can be pig-ignorant. Why do we tolerate this? It’s crazy.

It seems to me every democratic country should, with the help of its citizens, develop a curriculum for politicians, covering everything from science to medicine to economics to history. There could, for instance, be a basic test politicians have to pass simply to stand for election, and a more advanced examination for politicians to undergo before they can take office.

Of course, getting agreement on a curriculum will be a challenging task in itself. But that debate could be very interesting in itself, in exposing the often-ludicrous beliefs on which many people base their everyday decisions. Ideally, of course, we should aim to eliminate all beliefs in favour of educated guesses.


Making the iPod shuffle perfect

28 March 2008

I like the iPod Shuffle. I especially like the fact that you can use it without ever having to look at it. When you spend a big part of your day dodging fellow commuters on busy trains and streets, you know how annoying it is when people bump into you because they’re staring at a mobile or iPod screen. As a music player, I really do prefer it to its bigger brethren, including the iPhone. 

That said, there are times when I would like to know what I’m listening to. And it seems to me there’s a simple way Apple or another software developer could make it happen: use Leopard’s built-in Text to Speech software to generate a short, small MP3 or AAC sound file naming the song title, artist and album for each track on the Shuffle. 

Ideally, it’d be good to be able to press some button combination to hear  this sound file when you want to know what you’re listening to. But it would be even simply to add the name, track and album speech file to the beginning or end of each track when songs are transferred to an iPod Shuffle. It wouldn’t be that difficult to do. Would it?


Mighty stupid mouse

1 February 2008

I’ve just had to spend half an hour or so disassembling and reassembling my “Mighty Mouse”. (If you don’t know what a Might Mouse is, be thankful.) 

Sure, the sideways scrolling is neat. But I think the convenience is outweighed by the time you have to spend trying to clean the damn thing to get the up-and-down scrolling working again. Eventually it stops working altogether, as mine did months ago. 

Fixing it was pretty easy but it’s just not something one should have to do. I can’t believe Apple is still selling the same flawed design. (Steve, are you using one?)

All Apple needs to do to fix it is make cleaning the scrollball properly a two-minute job rather than a half-an-hour job involving screwdrivers, knifes and glue. In the meantime, if you haven’t bought one, don’t.


Leopard woes Part IV

4 January 2008

Alright, this is not so much a woe as a belated gripe. I tried out the search folders in the new Leopard Finder today and noticed that when you do a search, a slider bar appears at the bottom of the window that allows you to set the icon size – including making it as large as 512 X 512, way bigger than the standard 128 x 128.

Nice feature, you might think. And it is. Especially as it helps make up for the ugly, impractical and very annoying thick white border that appears around photo preview icons in Leopard, wasting megapixels of screen space in folders full of photos.

So the question is, why does the slider only appear in Search folders, and not in any of the normal folder views, where this feature would be really useful? WTF were they thinking at Apple!


Urgh!

19 December 2007

Remember that scene in the Witches of Eastwick? When the religious nutter projectile-vomits cherries? Some do.

Well, that was me, recently. Minus the cherry stones but plus a few carrots. I did feel so much better afterwards, compared with beforehand, but I haven’t had such a nasty bout of food poisoning or gastric flu, whatever it was, in decades. It pole-axed me for two days.

Anyway, now well behind on all fronts, but I hope to write some more cheery (sorry) festive entries soon.

Update: looks like I had a bad bout of norovirus. Probably especially bad because I already had a cold


A flood but not Noah’s

20 November 2007

You just have to groan when you see headlines such as “Research backs story of the Ark“. It’s just wrong in so many ways, and yet you know some are really going to think it justifies their superstitions.

The actual story is that researchers have more accurately dated the flooding of the Black Sea by the Mediterrannean to around 8300 years ago, attributing it to the 1.4 metre global sea level rise caused by the melting of the ice sheets covering North America after the last Ice Age, and speculating that the peoples displaced by the Black Sea flood waters spread across Europe, taking their farming skills with them. (There’s no mention of any boats.)

They also speculate that the Black Sea flooding gave rise to the myth of Noah’s flood – one of several theories – but what they describe is of course very different to the biblical description. So if this was the flood, those who wrote the bible were either rather ignorant people retelling a much embellished and altered folk story, or some supernatural being was lying to us. Take your choice.

Not convinced? Check out this entry for an impressively comprehensive list of problems with the biblical flood myth.