Tag Archives: Snow Leopard

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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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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Rant of the Day

On my rounds of the interwebs this morning, I came across this excellent rant by Ken Rockwell:

Everything New Sucks

While there are some specific points that I don’t agree with, I think on the whole he is absolutely right. New stuff really does suck.

An example (not that a single example proves anything, but hey—this is a rant, not a proof): I bought my first CD player in 1987, and I used it for about twelve years, until I replaced it with my first DVD player. That DVD player started having tracking problems after about five years, meaning a replacement was needed. I felt cheated. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in the years since 1987, generally accepted standards of quality in electronic components had fallen substantially. In the mid 2000’s, a DVD player lasting five years was considered exceptional.

My second DVD player purchase was fairly painless, due to the low price (only about 15% of what I paid for the first one), but the fucking thing only lasted about a year before it started having the same problems as the first one, and then one day it just died completely. What’s more, based on reviews I read of that brand, a one year life span was actually better than average. Typical reviews went something like this: “Um yeah, mine lasted about a week past the 90 day warranty, but hey, it’s only a $50 player so it was no big deal. I went out and bought another one just like it.” Translation: He bought a cheap piece of crap DVD player which failed after three months, so he rewarded the company who perpetrated this travesty by going out and buying another one exactly like it. There were a lot of reviews like that. It was very disheartening.

Today, I am on my third DVD player, and, while it is lasting a much more respectable amount of time than that second one, it’s not as good as the first one was in its heyday. And the remote control sucks (more on that below).

Back to Rockwell: He also rants about cars, and I find I’m in complete agreement. I drive an older car, and to be perfectly honest, I would rather not replace it. I’m probably going to have to, though, because it’s so old now that keeping it running and operational is getting to be an issue. Important components are becoming difficult to find when the originals fail, and the rust on the body has gotten to the point where trying to abate it would be pointless. However, I’m not looking forward to replacing it with a newer car because, frankly, all the newer models suck by comparison. What’s more, this old, 1980’s model (which doesn’t even have fuel injection!) gets gas mileage comparable to a lot of modern day hybrids, meaning whatever I upgrade to, I’m also going to have to budget about a 50% increase in my gasoline costs. Ridiculous! What I’d really love is if I could just buy a car identical to the one I have, except brand spanking new. Anyone got a time machine I can borrow?

Rockwell also bitches about how cars and appliances don’t have enough knobs on them and how the few buttons they do have are grossly overused (a sentiment with which I completely agree), but then he raves about how his Apple remote control and iPod only have four or five buttons that do everything. Um, ok. :)

On the other hand, his comments about poorly designed TV remotes are right on the mark. The people who design these things seem to assume that I am actually going to be looking at them during operation, so they fill them up with exactly even rows and columns of exactly identical buttons. This is stupid. When I’m watching something on the TV, there are two facts which need to be considered: 1) I am not interested in taking my eyes away from the screen. 2) More importantly, even if I was, it’s usually too dark to read tiny little letters on the damn remote control anyway! Once past the initial learning curve, a properly designed remote operates entirely by feel. This means different buttons have to be different shapes and sizes. I’ve had remotes like this (on an old Toshiba VCR, for instance), and they were a joy to use.

The other critical feature of a good remote is not having to point it exactly at the sensor! A remote should work perfectly well even if you are pointing it as much as 45 degrees in the wrong direction. I’ve used remotes that were even better than that: They worked fine when pointed at the ceiling or exactly in the wrong direction (i.e. the infrared signal would bounce off the opposite wall or ceiling and still be strong enough to control the device). By contrast, my current DVD remote is one of the most finicky remotes I’ve ever used, requiring me to point it exactly at the front of the DVD player, with no obstructions whatsoever, and even then I often have to press a button twice to get it to work. What’s more, some of the most useful buttons on it are small, tactically identical rectangles, making it hard to operate by touch alone. (This remote, however, is one of only two flaws on an otherwise excellent player. It’s a Panasonic, in case you’re interested.) Why don’t I just buy a universal remote? Well, that’s a whole other subject. ;)

Rockwell’s essay also covers the loudness war, in which the audio quality of compact discs has deteriorated over the years. Rather than actually utilize some of the huge dynamic range possible on compact discs (which was a key selling point of the format back in the 1980’s), the dynamic range is compressed into a narrow band and amped up until the top of the waveform clips. This is so the recording sounds better when played on cheap-shit five dollar headphones, junky computer speakers, narrow bandwidth radio stations, and elevator P/A systems. For these limited purposes, the technique works fairly well. It’s a disaster, however, for getting an actual hi-fi experience out of the disc on even a mediocre quality full-fledged audio system.

So I don’t buy CDs anymore, unless I’m confident I’m getting a version that wasn’t mastered recently. I sold a bunch of discs back in 1993 because I needed some cash. Nowadays, I seriously regret doing that. Many of them, I assume, will have been remastered since I originally bought them, and it’s a safe bet that the newer version will be inferior to the old. What I need is a place to buy old, used compact discs. Or a time machine.

There’s more. Rockwell doesn’t like Snow Leopard, for instance, although his complaint about it only pertains to aesthetics. My own beef with Snow Leopard is that Apple decided to further obfuscate the definition of “gigabyte” by siding with hard drive manufacturers who, for years, have been defrauding the public with devices that don’t have as much capacity as advertised. They weasel out of committing actual, legal fraud with language in the fine print stating that, according to their definition, a gigabyte is one billion (1,000,000,000) bytes. This is a lie, and they only get away with it because there is no legal definition of “gigabyte.” In practice what it means is that you hook up your “one terabyte” hard drive to a Leopard or older system, and it shows that you only have 931 usable gigabytes. Windows users face a similar problem. Snow Leopard has “fixed” this by simply repeating the lie and reporting that the drive is a full terabyte. Meanwhile, RAM continues to be defined correctly, in powers of 2, like it always has, meaning an Apple system now has two different kinds of gigabytes: the kind on the hard drive, which is 1 billion bytes (or a terabyte being 1 trillion bytes), and the RAM kind, which is 1,073,741,824 bytes (that’s 2 to the 30th power). Furthermore, a gigabyte on an Apple Snow Leopard system will be different from a gigabyte on Windows, which should be fun for those of us who actually need to interact with the Windows world in a more-than-trivial way.

What annoys me more than anything about this problem, though, is that the average computer geek seems to believe Apple’s gigabyte trick is actually a good idea, because the “definition of giga is one billion, according to the SI standard.” This is the same type of pedantic, know-it-all mentality which came up with the “proof” that the 21st century started in the year 2001 because “the definition of a century is 100 years, and there was no year zero.” These people fail to understand that having two different, incompatible measuring systems is a much greater problem than having a few noobs complaining about their terabyte hard drives being smaller than expected, and a vastly greater problem than the utter triviality of the SI unit prefixes being used “incorrectly.”

The real solution would have been congressional regulation, that is, legally defining the different units as 1024 of the smaller unit, i.e. 1 terabyte = 1024 gigabytes, 1 gigabyte = 1024 megabytes, 1 megabyte = 1024 kilobytes, and 1 kilobyte = 1024 bytes. However, not only is that politically impossible in a nation where the main legislative body has stubbornly avoided their constitutional duty to “fix the standard of weights and measures” pertaining to computer systems, but it is already too late. For such regulation to have been truly effective, it would have needed to happen back in the 1980’s, or early 1990’s at the latest. Now that Apple has further muddied the waters, and geek-laden organizations like the IEC, IEEE and ISO have thrown their weight behind using two completely separate systems, meaningful regulations are never going to happen.

One thing that would really help would be if Microsoft would make the same change in their next version of Windows. That, at least, would solve the difficulty of using two different measuring systems depending on which OS platform you use, and it would keep the “kilo means 1000 not 1024” pedants happy. It would not resolve the inconsistency between hard drives and RAM, nor the fundamental inconvenience of having two very similar but not-quite-the-same systems in use simultaneously, but it would at least be an improvement over the current mess.

Anyway, this rant has been off the rails for some time now, so I’d better stop. :)

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