Tag Archives: Macintosh


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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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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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.


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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Computer death

(I originally posted this on my Flickr profile page a couple of months ago…but I think it fits here too. I’ll put today’s date, since I don’t want to get into the confusion of retroactive posting, heh.)

Update 7/13/09 – About a week ago, my iMac started to die, so I haven’t been able to upload anything lately. In fact, the computer is so fried that I have a hard time even checking email messages–for some odd reason, email seems to really annoy whatever the problem is. My best guess is the video hardware is failing, although it could be some other problem that would have video issues as a side effect. Anyway, the effect of this is that I am not all that active lately, and I’m going through computer withdrawal. :(

A new Mac is shipping sometime this week. It’ll take a bit to get myself up to speed, especially since I have to work late Thursday night (dammit!), and especially if I run into problems getting files off the old computer (I’m pretty sure the drive is fine, but whether the computer will cooperate long enough to allow the new Mac to hoover all the files off of it is another question entirely).

Anyway, that’s what’s been happening lately. I’m not dead or anything, just having an equipment disaster.

The good part of this is that once I am up and running, my slow-computer problems should be solved. :) In the meantime, I am tired and stressed out.

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