Tag Archives: OS X

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.” ;)

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under computers

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.)

1 Comment

Filed under computers, general geekery

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?]

1 Comment

Filed under annoyances, brainstorming, computers, doom and gloom, general geekery

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.

1 Comment

Filed under annoyances, computers, general geekery

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. ;)

4 Comments

Filed under annoyances, computers