Category Archives: computers

Why does Apple hate me?

Lately I’ve been considering restarting this blog.  I’d repurpose it a bit, getting back to what I had originally set it up for, years ago, namely photography related stuff, and not so much relating to ranting about Apple garbage.  Who knows, I might even go and hide some of the anti-Apple bitching. Or maybe not.

See, it’s hard, because Apple continues to get more and more retarded over time. I’m to the point now where I really need to upgrade my computer to something newer, and there is literally nothing in Apple’s lineup that meets my needs.  Maybe the closest would be a top of the line Mac Mini, since those don’t come preinstalled with some weirdo, non-standard wide gamut UHD display that all the larger iMacs have now.  (And a Mac Pro is simply not going to happen.  The so-called “trash can” may just be the most ridiculous computer Apple has come up with since their original seven pound laptop back in the 1990’s, and it costs a goddamn fortune!)

Well, there’s the Windows option.  That’s a big unknown in some respects.  I’ve used various Windows systems at work going back to the 1990’s, from Windows 3.2 up to Windows 7, although I never suffered through Vista.  A new computer would certainly come with Windows 10, which I am not familiar with. I haven’t heard a lot of positive comments about it, although people who have used it for a while do seem to quiet down after some initial complaining.  My father described Windows 10, “It’s as if they took everything that was useful about Windows 7 and hid it.”

(One of my big frustrations with Windows is that I like to move stuff around a lot, or rename stuff.  But Windows tends to make that very difficult.  Say you want to rename or move a folder full of images.  It’s likely that the system will generate an error and the process will fail due to one of the files within the folder being “in use.”  In the case of moving a folder, the easiest solution, assuming you have enough disk space to spare, is to simply copy the entire folder to the new location, then delete the old one. Hopefully you don’t use shortcuts, though, because that process will break them all!  As for how well that works with simply renaming a folder, you’d start out with a copy of the folder named “my folder copy” (or whatever), which would then need to be renamed, which is the same problem all over again.  I suspect that the copy could be renamed as long as you haven’t done something foolish like peek inside it with Windows Explorer or some application…heheh.  Anyway, this is getting pretty digressive. Are all of these problems solved in Windows 10? I have no idea!  However, I’ve used Microsoft products for over 20 years and have noticed that certain minor bugs simply never get fixed, ever.  So I’m not holding my breath.)

And, as for Linux…well, that’s an idea that has a certain appeal to it, but no.  Even though I’m probably going to ditch Adobe products too, since I am not interested in software rentals, the question of, “Is this application available for Linux” is usually going to lead to, “Nope.”

Anyway, all of this came to mind recently, especially after reading this article, and getting into the comments, at The Online Photographer:

Computer Update (OT)

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Regarding the iTunes store…

Dear Apple:

Please FIX YOUR DAMN BUFFERING on audio samples.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Me.

P.S.  Or, maybe I can start buying all tracks from Amazon.com? Now there’s an idea.

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Some new equipment…

As mentioned in previous posts I’ve been having recurring issues with Apple’s Time Machine backup software over the years.  The latest issue proved to be the final straw.  The internal drive in my iMac crashed, the local Apple dealer replaced it with a new drive and also did me the “favor” of installing Snow Leopard on it.  I then restored my previously saved files using Time Machine, when prompted to by Setup Assistant.

Time Machine never worked right after that.  It would typically try to back up tens of thousands of files every single time, often taking more than a half hour, which resulted in Time Machine being active more than 50% of the time, and that just doesn’t work.  There are too many things that can go wrong when Time Machine is running—having it run more than half of the time is just asking for trouble.  I tried and tried to get this fixed, going through every damned solution on pondini.org, including reinstalling Snow Leopard myself, and NOTHING worked.

So now I’m going to give up.  Arrived via FedEx today is a brand new Synology DS1513+, with four 4-terabyte hard drives loaded into it.  The setup routine recommends having a complete backup prior to proceeding, so I am doing one last Time Machine backup prior to formatting those four drives into a RAID array which will then be used to back up this system.  12 terabytes of space ought to be enough to last me for a while, but if I run short I can always add another drive to the array and bring it up to 16.  WΩΩt!

Getting the thing put together and hooked up was pretty easy.  My only complaint is that the little fastening bars on the side of each disk slider doohickey are made of plastic, which suggests a high likelihood of breakage over the long-term.  It also seems that the locking procedure for the individual slider doohickeys are not quite idiot-proof, although once you figure out what can go wrong it’s easy enough to avoid (i.e., it’s the sort of mistake that can only be made once).

Anyway.  Time Machine is about halfway through what’s recently been roughly a 20-minute process.  I’ve been keeping it turned off most of the time and just running one backup manually each evening.  Moving forward I’ll be using Carbon Copy Cloner to handle the backups onto the array.  Who knows if I’ll run into any issues.  Hopefully this will work out ok.

One question that pops into my mind…am I going to get to name the volume?  If so, I’m leaning towards “Utopia”.  Then again, that sort of optimism may be tempting fate.  Maybe I’d be better off with a nice, pessimistic name like “Purgatory.” ;)

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Annoyances.org apparently gone

It’s been a long time since I was there last, but when I attempted today to pull up the classic website annoyances.org, all I got was the message “Annoyances.org is temporarily down for maintainance [sic] and will return shortly.”   But, based on accounts posted here in early 2013, it appears that the temporariness of that maintenance is getting pretty non-temporary.

One poster at that Majorgeeks link very helpfully posted the link to the Annoyances website via the Internet Wayback Machine:  http://wayback.archive.org/web/*/annoyances.org

Using that, we can determine that the issue started right around the beginning of the year, 2013, and has been going on ever since.  To access an actual archive of the site, you’ll need to go back to late 2012 or earlier.

I wonder what other cool, 1990’s-era websites I always used to like have quietly disappeared like that.

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Datum

Back a few years ago, I idly wondered how long it would take to securely erase a 1 terabyte hard drive. I had no idea at the time.  More recently, I gained some real-world experience with something similar to this.

Due to having (surprise surprise) Time Machine problems, I at one point decided it was necessary to zero out my Time Machine drive.  Why?  Because I’d heard somewhere that zeroing a drive will “map out” any bad sectors on the drive, preventing them from being used once the format is complete.  An ordinary format supposedly won’t do that.

The drive in question was a four terabyte drive.  It took about four days for Disk Utility to zero that sucker.

A 7-pass wipe should take about 7 times as long, which would be about 28 days.  And the most secure option, which I believe uses a 35-pass wipe (don’t take my word for it, though), well…that would take about 140 days.  Dividing that by four, you’d end up with about 35 days for a most-secure wipe of a terabyte drive, or about a week for a less obsessive 7-pass wipe.  This is assuming that it always takes the same amount of time to do a single pass over any drive of a given volume.  I imagine that is not true in reality–some drives would go faster than others, due to inherent differences in drive performance and the amount of bad sectors encountered during the process.

This effectively disproves the, “Quick! The cops are here, wipe that drive before they grab the computer 5 seconds from now!” bulltweet that we used to see in the movies.

(As for that four terabyte drive that I zeroed out: Opinions differ as to whether that process will actually map out bad sectors on the drive. I was unable to tell if it had any significant effect at all, and suspect the entire exercise may have been a waste of time.  And I’m still having Time Machine problems.)

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Old versions of Firefox

Sick of the way Firefox updates itself every month or two?

A while ago, I gave in and decided to just let it do its thing—resisting the constant onslaught of  upgrades was getting to be a bit of  a pain.  And, for a while, it worked out ok.

Then this morning my work computer upgraded itself to Firefox 29, which…well.  I’m considering going back to 28.  I haven’t decided yet.  However, if I do, the following link will end up being useful:

http://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/releases/

That contains downloadable copies of what appear to be ALL Firefox versions.  They are organized by version, then subdivided into platform, and subdivided further by language.  Myself, I’d be wanting the “en-US” version. The final folder contains either a DMG for Mac version, a couple of EXE files on the Windows versions, or a compressed TAR for Linux.

Happy downgrading! :)

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Irony

Something just occurred to me.

I have been an Apple user since…..well, maybe 1982? Something like that. It was before the Mac came out anyway–a computer math class in high school in the early 80’s, programming in AppleSoft on an Apple IIe. Not a bad computer, for that time, incidentally, even if it was possible for me to physically type enough text to fill up the entire RAM capacity of the computer. LOL

Anyway. The point is that I’ve been an Apple user for a long time. But something occurred to me, as I’ve been looking over my last few posts on this blog tonight. As a long-time Mac user, I’ve slung more than my fair share of criticism towards Microsoft, especially back in the DOS and Windows 95 days. Nevertheless, I have to admit that, possibly, my favorite application of all time is a Microsoft product: Microsoft Excel.

And, my most-loathed application of all time is Apple’s Time Machine.

What a dilemma. I, a long-time Mac user, have proclaimed my all-time favorite application to be a Microsoft product, and my all-time most-hated application to be an Apple product. WTF?

Hmm. Well, I have no particular insight into that question at the moment, but I do feel moved to traverse the garden path for a bit, as it were:

Every once and a while, my dentist, knowing me to be a computer geek, asks me for a recommendation or other pertaining to hardware or software if he’s got a big upgrade coming, or whatever. Over the years, I’ve found myself less and less sure of what to tell him. Gone are the days when I could brazenly brag about how I ran my iMac with no malware protection whatsoever. Granted, I still do that (depending on what you consider “malware protection”–for instance, is Adblock Plus considered “malware protection”? Or NoScript?). But long gone are the days when I would unconditionally recommend a Mac system.

At the same time, though, I have never gone so far as to actually recommend a Windows 7 system to anyone (with the exception of the odd Windows XP user wondering if it was a good idea to upgrade–short answer, “it ain’t bad, you’ll get used to it, and I don’t hate it myself, which is more than I can say about a lot of upgrades”).

Really, if someone came to me today, or during the past few years, and asked what sort of system they should buy, I’m honestly not sure what I would say. It’s my feeling that there is really no good choice out there, or that (really) the best choice is to simply stick with what you have. Out of Windows, OS X and Linux, each has their advantages and disadvantages. I stick with OS X because it would cost me too much to switch, given the gains I would realize. Maybe the correct answer to the question is, “it doesn’t really matter all that much.”

Then again, it can be said that desktop systems aren’t the main issue anymore. The real question these days is what sort of mobile device to get. Android? iPhone? Blackberry?!?! Hmmm.

[For me, the answer is “none of the above”, because 1) I detest the expense involved in any of those systems, 2) I don’t want people to be able to reach me that easily and 3) “the cloud” is a BAD idea in most cases. In the long run, I am guessing that this will spell my demise as a “tech” guy, due to the world’s moving into a realm of stupidity and me refusing to follow. Oh well. Ask me if I care. No. Why do you ask?]

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A slight update

I decided to add one item to my Steve Jobs memorial post, the item regarding Steve’s “Thoughts on Flash” article [link: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/%5D. I’m not sure why it didn’t occur to me to include that originally.

Hopefully I won’t be sued for my comments in relation to that item. I do really like Adobe software, other than Flash, which is probably my #3 most hated software of all time, after Time Machine and Windows 95 (Java gets 4th place, LOL). I use licensed copies of Photoshop and Dreamweaver on a regular basis. :) :) :) I also personally own a copy of Photoshop Lightroom on my own iMac.

[Note to my fellow geeks: I use Dreamweaver because 1) my employer owns a licensed copy, and 2) it offers some useful shortcuts over editing HTML in Notepad, and 3) the project I work on is, honestly, not complicated enough to justify my spending the time to find something better. LOL.]

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Most annoying software OF! ALL! TIME!

I have to offer my congratulations to Apple Computer. Or, simply, “Apple” as they are now so pretentiously known.

As of today, Apple’s Time Machine backup software has become my #1 most all time hated software, exceeding even Microsoft’s oh-so-lovely Windows 95, the previous record holder, the primary feature of which was the need to completely reboot the computer at least once every three hours. Yes, friends and neighbors, Apple’s Time Machine has now managed to piss me off even more than Windows 95. I wouldn’t have thought it possible. It has in fact been 12 YEARS since I last used a Windows 95 system on a regular basis, so this has been a long standing record. But it is now broken.

So, congratulations Apple. I bow down in honor to your achievement.

Why am I so pissed off?

Simply put:

“Waiting for index to be ready (100)”.
“Bulk setting Spotlight attributes failed.” [TWICE!]

Total time taken on this backup task so far: 2 hours and five minutes. HOWEVER, when I poke around in Console, I discover that, over the past 48 hours, this sort of shit has already happened twice before, sometimes resulting in a single backup task taking over four hours. This, when (normally) the time spent on a backup task is measured in seconds, or (perhaps) a minute or two, if there are multiple gigabytes to be backed up.

On October 10, for instance, on the backup task which started at 1:09:08 A.M., it took over FIVE HOURS to finally complete the backup at 6:19:03 A.M. And there wasn’t that much data copied, either. In fact, although it’s kind of hard to tell for sure from the logged messages in Console, it appears that this five-hour-long backup task succeeded in backing up the absolutely massive quantity of four gigabytes. Yep: four gigabytes. Wow. And, mind you, this was in the middle of the night, when the computer wasn’t even being used.

Today’s backup gives every indication of being as ridiculous as that.

Well, if I am still awake at the point when this turkey finally quits, I am going to do two things:

1) Fucking turn Time Machine OFF.
2) Follow the directions on this page: http://pondini.org/TM/D2.html. Actually, I might not get to that part until Sunday. I do, after all, have plans for this weekend, and I cannot even describe to you how sick and tired I am of having stuff preempted because of Time Machine errors.

If all of the troubleshooting steps on http://pondini.org/TM/D2.html turn out OK, then I will turn Time Machine back on, and count this as a lesson learned. Except that I will still be annoyed, because, frankly, who the hell’s idea was it to tie Time Machine and Spotlight together like that, anyway? They weren’t linked like that in Leopard, and, as far as I can tell, Time Machine did what it was supposed to do in Leopard, barring the problems previously mentioned on this blog (which would NOT have been solved with Spotlight integration).

Alternatively, I’m going to spend a good part of Sunday (or other future day) setting up an alternate backup system. Carbon Copy Cloner seems to be a good, reliable program overall (I really do need to pony up the well-deserved shareware fee and upgrade to the current version, though). Maybe that’s the way to go.

Signing off, for now. (Hopefully it won’t be another two years before I post again on this blog.)

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Steve Jobs – RIP

I’m just one of many whose life was utterly changed by this guy. It was 1987 when it happened for me. That was the first time I sat down in front of a Macintosh computer. Before then, I was just “a brain”, which is what they called smart kids in school in the 80’s. That first experience with a little old Mac Plus changed me from “a brain” to a “computer geek,” and that’s basically what I’ve been ever since. I had used computers before, but none of them made the impression on me that a simple little Macintosh Plus did. More recently, I’m sure I’ve spent more time bitching about Apple computers than most people spend bitching about anything at all, but even so, I wouldn’t use anything else. Steve Jobs taught us all what we have a right to expect from technology: It should just work, and it should be beautiful. It should enrich our lives.

So, thanks Steve. I’m quite saddened by your passing. The world needs more people like you.

– – –

Some links to things of relevance:

Apple’s Steve Jobs Remembrance Page

Steve’s 2005 talk at Stanford University commencement – 15 minutes long, but well worth the time. It’s not often in this day and age that we get to hear a wise man speak the unvarnished truth.

Discussion and remembrance at The Online Photographer (including a most excellent portrait).

Steve’s notorious and seminal “Thoughts on Flash” article. – Highly recommended, especially if you’ve ever had to waste days of your life fixing a computer infected by a rootkit that was most likely the result of some Flash vulnerability. (Oh boy, can I get sued for saying that? I hope not. I hasten to add that Adobe has expended quite a lot of effort in patching any unintended vulnerabilities in this software, and I certainly do not mean to imply any negligence or incompetence on their part.) More significantly, though, I believe that this article effectively demonstrates Steve’s status in the tech world. I don’t think any other CEO, with the possible exception of Bill Gates, could get away with posting something like that on his company’s website. (And Bill just would not do that, so that qualification is moot anyway.)

And, of course, his Wikipedia page.

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Lion set to maul PowerPC apps

If you want to get a new Mac that is capable of running PowerPC applications, ACT NOW. It won’t be much longer before all new Macs come with “Lion” preinstalled, meaning those PowerPC applications WILL NOT RUN. This is, in my opinion, a mistake on Apple’s part. They should have waited at least another couple of years to do this, but I suspect their rationale is that some large developers are dragging their feet and the only way to get them to fall in line was to force the issue. Unfortunately, this means that anyone who NEEDS an older, PowerPC-only application that is now out of development is out of luck. Got some cool old game or toy that’s fallen by hard times and hasn’t been updated in the last six years? Too bad. MAYBE someone will write an emulator. Frankly, I think Apple should just start including emulators as part of the system, maybe for an extra charge. I’d seriously consider paying extra for a set of Mac emulators that would allow me to run old 68000 and PowerPC applications.

Just taking a look at applications on my system that would be broken if I upgraded to Lion today:

iCab 3
Filemaker Pro 7.0
Creatures 1.1.1 (a neat artifical life simulator that I go nuts over from time to time)
AppleWorks 6
Quicken 2004
Ptah (a neat little image viewer that I really like)
Graphic Converter 5.9

I’m sure some of these would be upgradeable. Some I wouldn’t care about. But a couple I would really miss if I lost them. Nothing Apple has come up with in recent years compares to AppleWorks 6, for instance. I’ve tried iWork, and found the spreadsheet module, which is the part I use the most, to be so tedious and frustrating that I’ve taken to setting up tables in TextEdit using tabs instead of enduring the hell of “Numbers”! Creatures, I’m pretty sure, would be lost entirely. That would suck, as it’s fun to play around with on rainy November Saturdays. According to it’s website, it’s gone open source, but that was over five years ago, so who knows what the status of it is now. Ptah is one of the two most elegant JPG image viewers I’ve ever encountered (the other being JPEGView, a nifty little program released back in the Macintosh LC days). It operates on a very simple principle, and that is, if you press a single key on the keyboard, it will replace whatever image is currently being displayed with the NEXT ONE. You and double-click on the first pic in a folder, then just keep hitting the “n” key to view every single image in that folder, one by one, all conveniently resized to fit on the screen (another keystroke will zoom it up to 1:1 size), and with minimal distractions cluttering up the screen. Does Preview do this? Maybe–I actually couldn’t tell you. Preview, to my way of thinking, is a pain in the ass. Essentially, Preview is to Ptah as iWork is to AppleWorks: buried up to the neck in design, and generally insufficient in functional elegance. In any case, Ptah was $5 shareware that I paid for in 2002. It hasn’t been available for years, from what I know.

I have discovered some good news today, though. My all-time favorite Usenet news reader, Thoth, has received an upgrade making it Lion-compatible, provided I re-register it (meaning pay an additional shareware fee). Since this is one of the finest applications I’ve ever used, and since I’ve been using it for quite a long time now and have never had to pay for an upgrade at all, I consider an additional $25 to be well worth the money. Quite frankly, Thoth has never been equaled by any other newsreader I’ve ever tried. I was starting to resign myself to eventually switching to Unison, which is an ok program (and definitely improved over earlier versions), but frankly, I just like Thoth better. It’s a good app for control-freak power users like myself. ;)

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iMac or Mac Pro?

Out of curiousity, I was looking at specs on Apple’s website recently and noticed something interesting. When comparing features and prices between their current top of the line iMac and bottom of the line Mac Pro (default configurations for both), a person is better off buying the iMac, unless they already have a high-end monitor available for the Mac Pro, or (perhaps) have a specific need for some key feature that’s only available on the Mac Pro.

Why?

It’s actually pretty simple: The iMac is spec’d higher, it’s $500 cheaper, it includes a high-end monitor for no extra cost, and it’s power consumption is substantially less. This is just a ballpark figure, but I generally allow my Mac to run 24/7, idle most of the time with the screen dimmed, and, comparing the wattage figures for that usage between the two models, I estimate I’d burn through about 75 kilowatt-hours more per month with the Mac Pro.

Is a 3.1GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 (iMac) better or worse than a 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon “Nehalem” processor (Mac Pro)? Many people will simply not care–either one will be fast enough. The question is actually somewhat important to me, though, given my ownership of a Nikon D7000, which produces some rather large and slow-to-process RAW image files. Some extra speed would be helpful with that. I am too lazy to bother looking up the answer to the question right now, however (am I the world’s lamest blogger, or what?!?!).

Graphics cards: I admit I neither know, nor care, about the difference (if any) between them. (I suck at video games, and what else do you need that kind of hardware for, anyway? Generating Bitcoins? LOL Good luck with that.)

Firewire: The Mac Pro has two FW800 ports. The iMac only has one, but also has the new “Thunderbolt” ports. These are useless at this point, but will be quite nice once Thunderbolt peripherals are available. Those who, like me, have a lot of external hard drives, will perhaps be ambivalent about the prospect of upgrading lots of enclosures. I am also a bit concerned that I may actually have more drives than are allowable on a Thunderbolt bus. When you figure a 3 terabyte limit on drive size, multiplied by the small number of Thunderbolt devices allowed on one system, you end up with a limit on total system storage that’s substantially lower than you’d get using Firewire devices. It also gets more complicated when you realize, from a practical standpoint, that if you max out the drive size on all of the devices, you are going to run into backup issues, so the practical limit is even lower. Obviously it will be more than enough for all but the most dedicated hoarders (heheheh), but some of us may get a little cramped, especially once those 1080p video files start to pile up! (This is actually an interesting theoretical question. Let’s say, for instance, that for some crazy, insane reason I needed a petabyte of storage space on my iMac system, and, through some miracle, had the money to pay for it. Is that amount of storage even possible on an iMac system, and, if so, how could it be accomplished? Food for thought. Heheheh.)

On the whole, with the noted reservations, I suspect the specs are a win for the iMac, at least for now. Apple will get around to updating their Mac Pro line sooner or later, and at that point, the situation will presumably change.

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iTunes 8: RIP

When trying to access the iTunes store today with iTunes 8, it simply presented me with a single page, offering to upgrade to iTunes 10. Previously to this, usage of iTunes 8 on the iTunes store was a bit glitchy, but functional, overall. It allowed searches, browsing, purchasing. Even the old shopping cart still worked, which was the primary reason for staying with iTunes 8. The only catch was, you couldn’t get into the store simply by clicking on the iTunes Store link in the iTunes sidebar, you had to “sneak” in through one of the many little search arrows that show up throughout an iTunes library. As this was only slightly inconvenient, I never bothered to complain about it.

But now, there is nothing. Apple, in its typical, Nazi-like fashion, has decided that users are required to upgrade, or we’re shit out of luck.

(As a side effect of this, my old post about nuking iTunes 9 in favor of iTunes 8, a decidedly non-trivial process, is now totally obsolete. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if it worked with iTunes 10 anyway, since I never bothered to upgrade.)

Apple is in dire need of new leadership. And, as of today, I am in need of somewhere else to obtain music online.

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Time Machine nightmare…but with a happy ending

It all started on Friday night when I was doing a secure erase of the Trash. My first mistake was in not realizing one of the folders I had trashed must have had a LOT more stuff in it than I realized. The secure erase was obviously going to take a while. OOOPS.

However, for some inane reason I decided to let it run, rather than clicking the stop button and trying to sort through the Trash and only secure-erase the few files I really wanted to wipe. That was mistake number two.

At some point during the wipe, Time Machine started up. I had previously noticed that my Time Machine drive was almost full, and, having just moved around a lot of stuff, I also knew that what little space was left was not going to be enough for the next backup. Time Machine was going to need to do a pre-backup “thinning” procedure in order to make room for all the stuff I had moved.

So, Time Machine was cranking away with its thinning process, while at the same time, the Finder was trying to do a secure delete on a whole mess of stuff. Theoretically, it’s supposed to be possible to do these two things at the same time. In practice, something went haywire. After Time Machine had been running for a ridiculously long time, I decided to stop it, turn it off, and allow the wipe operation to complete. I would then turn Time Machine back on so it could do its backup in peace. I suppose this was another mistake, although in retrospect I don’t know if stopping the wipe operation would have prevented the subsequent problems, given that it was already obvious that something was wrong.

My Time Machine drive is an external 1 terabyte Firewire 800 drive, which, as I said, was almost full. After the wipe was complete, I turned Time Machine on again and initiated a backup. It did the backup, and went into the thinning process again. It thinned and thinned and thinned, until it had deleted over 600 gigabytes of files.

Shit.

I could see no legitimate reason for why it would delete that many files. I also figured that, with 2/3 of my backups deleted, I was basically fucked and the only thing to do was reinitialize the Time Machine drive and start over. However, it was already very late that night, so I put that off until Saturday.

Saturday evening, I reinitialized the Time Machine volume (not the whole drive, just the volume, which is a subtle but, as it turns out, crucial distinction–i.e., mistake number four). I allowed Time Machine to start up again, telling it this time to ignore all but my internal drive and one small external with about 80 gigs of material for backing up. It did the external drive first, and everything worked just fine, apparently. Then it started copying files from the internal drive, and something seriously wrong started to happen, again. Progress slowed to a glacial pace. I would estimate it took two or three minutes to back up 100 megabytes of data, and since I had another 250 to 300 gigabytes to go, this was not acceptable. My only possible saving grace at that point might have been if the slowness was a result of it getting bogged down in the thousands of teensy little files in the depths of the System folder. I decided to let it run overnight.

On Sunday, however, after a lengthy night’s sleep (truthfully, I did not want to get out of bed and deal with this shit), only 40 additional gigabytes had been copied. The backup had been running for over 12 hours and wasn’t even half done. I soon decided that more waiting was pointless. I did a bit of Googling and found some tips that looked like they might help.

Here’s what worked: I stopped the backup again, and turned Time Machine off. I went into my Spotlight preferences and discovered that Spotlight had somehow not bothered to exclude the Time Machine drive from its indexing process the way it did the previous times I had set it up. That was undoubtedly a factor. However, it didn’t prove to be the primary factor. I also reinitialized the drive, and this time I told Disk Utility to redo the entire partition map, not just the partition itself. More importantly, I had it format the partition using a “GUID” partition map, which is the default for Leopard, and which Time Machine supposedly prefers. Previously, it had been formatted with an Apple Partition map, presumably left over from my previous Tiger system. I then sacrificed a chicken, prayed to all the gods in Valhalla (Loki in particular), and told Time Machine to make another go at it.

Well, the GUID partition map really seems to have been the magic bullet. Not only did the initial backup work perfectly, the remaining drives backed up without a hitch as well, at the point when I re-included them. What’s even more amazing to me, though, is that Time Machine is now performing at about six times the level of efficiency it was before all this started. It’s substantially faster, and it uses only about 1/6 the RAM it did before. Before this, backups were an irritating drag on the system, so annoying that I would often turn them off to alleviate the frustration. They would also hog close to 350 megabytes of RAM, meaning that every hour some idle application got shunted off into virtual memory. This was a severe annoyance with programs that utilize a lot of RAM. Now it uses a mere 55 megs, it’s backing up the same amount of data, and doing the whole shebang in about 30 seconds, unless there’s a bigger file that needs to be backed up. Note that it’s backing up four drives, totaling about 750 gigabytes of data, with what must be half a million files at least. In less than a minute. That, in my opinion, is how things ought to work. ;)

So, even though this whole experience was rather nightmarish, especially when I began to wonder if my internal hard drive was on the verge of failure, I ended up learning a thing or two about Time Machine optimization. If you’re having Time Machine problems, seriously check the format of that partition map and make sure it’s GUID. If it’s not, and if you find Time Machine backups to be an incessant bother, it will probably be worth your while to nuke that partition and replace it with a GUID partition. Also, double check to make sure Spotlight isn’t indexing your Time Machine drive. Normally, it will not index that drive, however if something gets messed up, it’s possible Spotlight will not “realize” it’s attempting to index a Time Machine drive at the same time that Time Machine itself is trying to do its initial backup.

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Stupid Mac Tricks

This bug is actually kind of interesting, although it could cause some more significant problems in some cases.

I was using Disk Utility to do a free space wipe of one of my drives. What happens when this occurs is Disk Utility creates a new file that’s exactly the size of the free space on the drive, then overwrites the file however many times is specified in the wipe options. That would be either once, seven times or whatever the highest, most secure option is (I forget at the moment).

So that’s what I was doing when Time Machine started up. Time Machine noticed this “new” file that Disk Utility had created, and decided it needed to be backed up…all sixteen gigabytes of it. Suddenly, the backup was sixteen gigabytes larger than before, meaning my Time Machine drive did not have enough space. Older backups needed to be deleted to make room. I ended up losing two weeks of my oldest backups. This is not a huge deal in this case, but it is entirely possible that someone will encounter this bug at some point and experience far greater problems with it. It all depends on how much of a shortfall is caused by the wipe file. If the wipe file is, say, 75 gigabytes larger than the free space on the Time Machine drive, then you’re going to lose 75 gigs of backups just to make room for a gigantic file full of gibberish or zeros. Thrilling, huh? Even if you’re lucky like I was, with a wipe file “small” enough to not cause serious mayhem on the backup drive, you’ll still have a huge, utterly useless file sitting there, potentially for quite a long time, with no easy way to get rid of it. Why? Because it’s an invisible file, so you won’t be able to see it in Time Machine. [footnote!]

I wonder if this is fixed in Snow Leopard. I am a luddite, still using Leopard, 10.5.8.

The easy workaround, of course, is to turn off Time Machine before doing such a wipe. Obviously it is ridiculous that people should have to remember something like that, but that’s the way it goes in the computer business.

On the plus side, at some point in the future when Time Machine needs more space on my drive, and has reached the point where the September 18th backup is the oldest, I’m going to be getting a fairly large chunk back all at once. I wonder how long it will be? [footnote–not long, I guess! :P]

——

Footnote: I was able to get the wipe file off the backup drive and reclaim that space. It proved to be about 15 gigabytes, not 16 like I thought. How did I get rid of it?

The file itself was located a few levels deep in an invisible folder named “.Temporary Items” on the drive I was cleaning. In order to show this folder, I needed to make invisible items visible. Moreover, I needed to do this in a way that I could see the invisible files in Time Machine. There’s a utility called Onyx which can do this. It has a checkbox to unhide invisible items in the Finder, which also makes them visible in Time Machine (as I discovered, to my delight).

Once those invisible items are visible, I started Time Machine and located the backup where the huge file appeared. It was the first backup after I started the free space wipe. Finder view options needed to be set to “show all folder sizes”, so I could check the sizes of the folders I was looking at. Basically, I kept opening folders until I found the very large file that was causing the problem–I think it was two or three levels deep. It had some generic, technical sounding name (I forgot to note it down before I removed it), but was clearly identifiable it by its size, which was equal to the amount of free space on the drive from before. I selected that file, then went up to the little actions menu button in the title bar of that Finder window (it’s the button with the little gear icon in it). One of the options was to remove all backups of that file. It asked if I was sure and requested my password to confirm. After that, I had the space back on my backup drive, all fifteen gigabytes of it. Sadly, though, there is no way to recover the old backups which had been deleted to make room for it. :(

Disclaimer: Just because I am describing this here doesn’t mean I am recommending this procedure. Anything you try is at your own risk. In particular, do not use the Finder to delete individual files off of a Time Machine drive, because it will not work. I am not responsible for the actions of people who try this who don’t know what they are doing. I’m mostly putting this description up because I am sort of a compulsive explainer, and can’t really help myself. ;)

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Update on the Scrollball Problem

On a whim, I tried an idea with the scrollball to see if it would help.

I applied a fair amount of ordinary spit to the scrollball (basically I licked it a couple times), and then did the standard press-down-and-exercise-the-ball method. This actually seemed to shake things up in there a little, so I licked the ball again and did it some more, with a bit more spit this time. Hmm, didn’t help as much, so one more generous lick, then flipped the mouse over, pressed the scrollball down onto a clean sheet of paper and rolled it around a bit.

That seems to have done the trick, for now. Hopefully the fix will last for more than a couple of hours.

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More Apple Stupidity

Yes, it is now my turn to bitch about the so-called “Mighty Mouse” (which has been renamed the “Apple Mouse”). You would think that Apple, a company which has been selling mouse-enabled computers for over 25 years, would have gotten it right by now. But no, there have now been not one but two major screwups in mouse design by Apple, in less than ten years.

The first was, of course, the original iMac hockey-puck mouse. I had one of those, and there was a fairly easy fix: When I got my Lime Green iMac, I also bought a little plastic attachment to hook around the mouse and convert it into a normal shape. It cost something like ten bucks, which is about ten times what it should have cost, but it was still cheap enough so it was hard to complain too loudly about it. (I also knew one person who actually liked the hockey-puck mouse. He was an 11 year old boy, who liked how the shape fit his small hand very well. How he dealt with the problem of not being able to feel which end was up is a mystery to me, though.)

The more recent error is far worse. I am, of course, talking about the fucking uncleanable scrollball on the Mighty Mouse.

When I first got this thing, I thought it was great. Finally, Apple had come out with a scroll-wheel-enabled mouse, and what’s more, it was actually a scroll ball, so you could scroll sideways if you wanted! Or in any direction at all, for that matter! Cool, right?

It certainly seemed that way at first, but even before I got the thing I was aware of people having problems with it. It seems that some fucking dumbshit forgot to include a way for people to clean the gunk out of the ball mechanism, so after a while, it starts to hang up. Knowing in advance that this was a notorious issue, I made an effort to keep my finger clean when I operated the thing, but sure enough, after six months or so (rough guess), I started having the same problem myself. At that point I did a little reading up on what to do about it. The best solution I found at the time was to press down hard on the ball and roll it around so as to force some of the debris out of the roller mechanisms.

That worked for maybe another six months. Then I noticed that I was having to do it more frequently, and it was becoming less effective than before. I would have to do it multiple times in order for it to work. And eventually it became entirely uneffective. At this point, my scroll ball will scroll down, but not up. This is actually an improvement over yesterday, when it would scroll up but not down–I was able to force some of the gunk onto the opposite roller, apparently. Problem is, up and down are both about equally crucial, I find. Thus, I am back to using scroll bars to navigate, and this is a pain in the ass.

What annoys me the most about this problem is that Apple never even bothered to fix it. Instead, they just started selling the “Magic ‘Mouse'”, which isn’t even a mouse but some kind of bizarre trackpad thingee. Of course, that’s fine for people who want to use a trackpad, but I would rather just have a mouse. I have found over the years that trackpads really suck. It takes five or ten times longer to do stuff than it does with a mouse. Trackpads also take away something I’ve enjoyed over the years, in that I am left handed but operate the mouse with my right hand (thanks to the too-short mouse cable on the Macintosh Plus, which was my first mouse-enabled computer). This gives me a slight advantage over people who use one hand for everything. But with trackpads, I’m back to using my left hand for everything, because my right index finger just isn’t as capable as the left one. So I would rather just stick to mice. That means I’m going to have to find a mouse that works on OS X, and that can scroll sideways. I wonder if there is such an animal?

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The OS-X Annoyance Factor

Sometimes I wonder about Apple. I wonder whether they really bother to think things through anymore, or whether it’s just Steve Jobs shooting from the hip. I know the man is a genius, but he’s only one guy, and nobody can think of everything.

Anyway, why am I here bitching this fine evening at 12:07 in-the-fucking-AM?

Well, imagine the following hypothetical situation:

You have a 2 gigabyte file sitting in the Trash.

You mouse up to the Finder menu, intending to choose “Empty Trash” but instead, you accidentally choose “Secure Empty Trash.”

For those who aren’t familiar with this, “Empty Trash” would take a fraction of a second to delete one file. “Secure Empty Trash”, on the other hand, goes around the disk and physically overwrites the living shit out of every fragment of the file, thus preventing everyone (with the possible exception of the NSA) from ever recovering it. This takes time. Worse, when there’s a lot of data to erase, it takes a lot of fucking time.

This thing you see in movies sometimes, where the cops are banging down the door and the rebel-hero hits “wipe” to instantly and securely erase the entire subversive contents of his hard drive….that is utter horseshit, especially in the past few years when drives have gotten up into the terabyte range. I have no fucking clue how long it would take to securely wipe a one terabyte drive, but if I were going to do something like that, I would plan ahead on not using it for maybe a week. I honestly don’t even know. In fact, I probably would not do it all at once, due to the risk of possible power failure during the operation. Note that I do have a UPS installed on my system. I’m talking about power failure long enough that it runs out the battery on the UPS during the delete. This isn’t the sort of outage that happens very often, but deleting that much data would take long enough that, I suspect, it would become a legitimate concern.

Anyway, that is why I am here bitching my fool head off in the middle of the night. I had about 75 files in the trash, and clicked “Secure Empty Trash” by mistake. A few of the files happened to be up in the 1 gigabyte range, and, lucky me (that’s sarcasm, by the way), by the time I hit the cancel button, the Finder was in the process of wiping one of those files. Yes, you can cancel the secure erase function midway through, but if a file is already partially erased, the operation won’t be canceled until that file is completely done. In fact, I suspect it may erase the files in batches, and won’t stop until an entire batch is done. And, for some reason, canceling always seems to take a lot longer than simply deleting the file would in the first place. Maybe, in the future, I will just let it go ahead and wipe the stupid files.

In any case, it is finally done now. I knew that the time I spent bitching about this problem here on WordPress would be an effective way to kill the time. So now it’s done and I can go back to debugging the OTHER GODDAMN FINDER BUG I WAS STRUGGLING WITH BEFORE THIS HAPPENED.

(Note to Apple: How about a warning dialog if someone chooses “Secure Empty Trash” when there’s more than, say, 500 megabytes of data to be deleted? Or a large number of small files? That would be REALLY NICE.)

The other problem, by the way, is a fucking sparsebundle image icon which won’t display itself properly in the sidebar. And if I drag it there manually, then when I eject it, the image itself won’t be unmounted, it will just be hidden. I won’t be able to tell that it’s still mounted, unless I happen to look in a place where the icon still shows up. This is in Leopard. 10.5.8. All other disk images, including other sparsebundles, work fine, for the most part. I get so frustrated with this sometimes, I am tempted to upgrade to Snow Leopard, even if it means putting up with Apple’s math-defying idea of what a gigabyte is. ;)

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Steve speaks!

Wow – get a load of this:

Steve Jobs comments on Flash and its lack of support on Apple mobile devices. Very interesting stuff!

I find myself in complete agreement, which is unusual. I typically tend to be pretty critical of Steve Jobs (although I admit a lot of that may just be sour grapes), but in this case I think he’s right on the money.

One thing of particular interest appears late in the memo: “Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice.” The implication being that Steve Jobs and Apple view the PC era as being done. They may have actually said this at some point too, perhaps at the point when they removed the word “computer” from the company name.

(And off we go onto a little tangent here, if you’ll bear with me…)

The thing is, while I do tend to get very annoyed with computers, I also like them. To this day, I don’t own a laptop or iPod, or anything like that. I would rather have a good desktop system. The only portable computing devices I own are my camera (a Nikon D40, which is technically a type of computer, albeit a very specialized one), and perhaps my wristwatch. ;)

However, I’ve been toying with the idea of a laptop for some time now. My main objections to laptops have always been hatred of the blasted touchpad, and not liking the keyboards. Well, the new Mac I bought last summer came with a keyboard that’s pretty close to a laptop keyboard, and it turns out that I like it just fine. As for the touchpad, though, that’s another problem entirely. I admit I am getting sick of mice. They are just too hard on the hand and wrist during heavy use. A touchpad would likely alleviate that problem, although I do not know if it would come with its own set of RSI issues. In any case, I may end up having to switch to a touchpad for health reasons, even though doing so will likely slow me down by a factor of 10. Another fact to consider is the likelihood that Apple will eventually change their system enough so that key functions require multiple “touch” points in order to work. Such a system would no longer be fully mouse-compatible. Frankly, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see something like that happen in OS 10.7, whenever that comes out.

Aside from the decreasing importance of my old objections, there would be advantages to having a laptop. The main one would be that I could keep on computing, even when I’m sitting on the toilet! :P Seriously, when I get really into something, I am so annoyed at having to take bathroom breaks. :D I have also been considering going back to school in the next few years, and I imagine a laptop would be needed for that. You can’t lug a desktop system into a lecture hall, can you? Just doing some more brainstorming along this line, what might prove to be even more helpful in that situation would be an iPad with an auxiliary detachable keyboard. Assuming such a device is available. That way I could put the keyboard on my lap and the iPad on the desktop, which strikes me as an ergonomically superior solution. Hmmm.

Well, this post has clearly gotten way off the garden path, so I’ll end it here.

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It worked! Nuking iTunes 9 in favor of iTunes 8

It worked! :D

First, huge kudos to Apple Support Forums user GanstaPenguin for posting steps to accomplish this rollback.

What I’m going to do here is note some particulars I ran into during the rollback, then post a detailed step-by-step guide of how to do this, integrating GanstaPenguin’s steps with what I ran into during the rollback.

Stuff I encountered:  I had purchased four songs from the iTunes online store after the upgrade.  Based on other comments on Apple Support Forums, I was careful to make backup copies of these tracks before attempting the rollback.  I also made sure that Time Machine had made a backup of my hard drive, and that I had done nothing of significance since that backup.  My rationale was that if something went wrong with the rollback, the easiest “undo” would be to simply restore the whole drive with Time Machine.  After the rollback, I reimported the four new songs, and ended up with duplicate files in their corresponding folders in the “iTunes Music” folder.  Fixing this proved to be trivial, and in the steps below, I’ll design things to avoid this duplication.  In terms of iTunes configuration:  In iTunes preferences, under the Advanced tab, I have “Keep iTunes Music folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” both checked.  I learned that this is really the best option if you think you’re ever going to be messing around with the guts of iTunes. If you do not have those options checked, then some of what I list below is not going to work as I describe.

Playcounts, ratings and other customizations of items purchased after the upgrade were gone after the rollback.  Playcounts can be fixed with a script that allows changing of playcounts.  The other stuff is done manually.  (If I remember where to find that playcount-changer script, I’ll post a link here.  At the moment I don’t know where I got that, though—sorry.)

So, based on GanstaPenguin’s insight and my own experience with the rollback, here are extra-detailed steps on how to nuke iTunes 9 and get iTunes 8 back:

1) Make sure you have a valid backup.  NEVER mess around with iTunes without a valid backup.  I AM NOT KIDDING. Time Machine is the recommended backup method.  You also need to make a note of the time of this backup, in case you get through all of this and want to undo it for some reason.

2) Go to <http://support.apple.com/downloads/iTunes_8_2_1> and download iTunes 8.2.1. Open the disk image and review the “read me” file until you are satisfied that this version of the program will, in fact, run on a G4, G5 or Intel Mac in spite of what the webpage says. :)

3) Identify which songs or other items you have purchased since you upgraded.  If you care about play counts, ratings, etc., you’ll need to make a note of these somewhere.  I used TextEdit. :)

4) Quit iTunes.

5) You’re going to move your recently purchased items to a different location, but to do that you need to actually find the files.  You can use Spotlight to find them, or else hunt them down in the Finder (I do it that way because I hate Spotlight).  For manual finding, look in the “iTunes Music” folder.  Songs are mostly sorted by artist, then by album name.  One song I bought was from a movie soundtrack—I found it in the “Compilations” folder.  I don’t know how videos are organized—sorry.  I’d recommend Spotlight for those, I guess.

6) Now the files need to be moved.  What I did was to simply copy the .m4a files to another drive.  Copying to another drive will leave the originals in their original locations, which is not what you want!  If this happens, you’ll have to delete the originals yourself, after copying them.  Another way would be to simply drag the files to the desktop or another folder on the same drive as your iTunes library, instead of copying to another drive.  Whichever way you do it, the song files need to be gone from their locations in the iTunes Music folder, so that when you reimport them, you won’t end up with dupes.  (Whether or not dupes would be a problem somewhere down the road is unknown.  I prefer not to take the chance.)

7) Now you can delete iTunes from your Applications folder.  You don’t have to empty the trash, although it won’t hurt if you do.

8) Go to your ~/Music/iTunes folder. Delete or rename the “iTunes Library” file.

9) Open the “Previous iTunes Libraries” folder and look for the backup of your old pre-9 library; it should be dated at about the time you first ran iTunes 9. Move it back out to the ~/Music/iTunes folder, and rename it to “iTunes Library”.

10) Go back to the disk image you’ve downloaded and run the installer application.  Agree to whatever it says and wait for the installation to complete.

11) Start up iTunes.  You can immediately satisfy yourself that the rollback has worked by accessing the iTunes store.  When I did this, there was some delay—I am not sure if this was because it was confused over my rollback, or it was simply internet slowness.  You can also check your “Purchased” list and verify that items you bought since the v9 upgrade have, in fact, disappeared.

12) Use the Finder to locate your saved copies of your recently purchased songs.  The easiest way to get them back into iTunes is to select them all and do command-O (that’s the letter “O”, not a zero!).  This will cause iTunes to reimport them.   I suggest having your music sorted by “date added” when you do this, because the next step is manually dragging these tracks over to the “Purchased” list, so they show up there again.

13) Final step for me was restoring the play counts.

Out of curiosity, I also ran Software Update, and sure enough, it’s now recommending I upgrade to iTunes 9.0.3 again.  I’m thinking I’m going to have to uncheck that option every single time I run Software Update, from now until I get a new computer that comes preloaded with a newer version.  (Does a Snow Leopard upgrade force an upgrade to iTunes 9?  I hope not.)

Final note—What to do if something goes wrong and you want to undo all of this:

Close all applications. Open a Finder window and navigate to the top level of your internal hard drive.  Open Time Machine.  Click the backwards-pointing arrow until you are at the backup dated right before you started the rollback procedure.  Click the “restore” button.  It shouldn’t take all that long to run the restore, since you won’t have made all that many changes.  Disclaimer:  I haven’t done this, since the rollback worked fine for me.  However, this is what I would have done if I had not been satisfied.

So that’s that.

You know, this isn’t the first time I’ve been pissed off by an iTunes upgrade.  The last time was a few years ago—I forget what the issue was at the time.  I suppose it must have been less significant, because I eventually got used to it.  However, after two irritating upgrades, I have learned my lesson.  Never again will I blindly accept an iTunes upgrade without first researching it to see people’s reactions.  The difficulty, though, is how to do that research.  When I googled “iTunes 9 shopping cart” I got some pretty informative results, but if I hadn’t known to include “shopping cart” in my search, would I have found anything about it?  What’s needed are really good, critical reviews of these upgrades.

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