Tag Archives: Time Machine

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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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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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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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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More Apple iTunes sneakiness

I am really starting to get offended over this.

In my quest to roll things back to iTunes 8, I started out with some poking around in Time Machine.  One of the first things I noticed was that, even after upgrading to iTunes 9, if I look in the Applications folder, the actual application says “Version 8.2.1.”  What the fuck?

I went into Time Machine to check backed up versions, and sure enough, the version number of the application did not change when I upgraded.  Just to be sure I wasn’t completely losing my mind, I started iTunes again, double-clicking directly from the version 8.2.1 icon in the Finder, and checked the version number from within the program.  It was 9.0.3.

What the hell is Apple trying to pull with this shit?

I’ve also been doing some searching and discovered that I am far from the only person who’s wanted to downgrade back to version 8 of this software.  Various methods have been postulated as to how to actually accomplish the downgrade.  I’m not sure which one to try.

One idea I had was to simply restore my entire user folder to its pre-upgrade state.  I would have to “save” a few files from there that have changed in the last few days, and I would undoubtedly forget some, meaning lost data.  I am guessing I’d also have to restore the main Library folder in order for this to work.    Hmmm.

I may be on the right track with this.   However, there might be easier ways, too.  One suggested method I found goes like this:

1) Quit iTunes.

2) Delete iTunes from your Applications folder.

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

4) 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. Copy it back out to the ~/Music/iTunes folder, and rename it to “iTunes Library”.

6) Go to <http://support.apple.com/downloads/iTunes_8_2_1> and download iTunes 8.2.1. The page says it’s for G3, but the Read Me file says it’ll run on G4, G5, and Intel too. Open the diskimage and run the installer.

Sounds simple enough, right?

I’m just a bit wary because the last time I tried messing around with the guts of iTunes, I ended up having to restore stuff from backup.  I was trying to split my iTunes library into two separate libraries, so I could keep spoken word stuff apart from actual music.  Something went wrong during that process, and I had to restore it all.  However, I did have a good idea of what went wrong, so when I tried it again, and it worked.  I learned a a valuable lesson, though: iTunes is not designed to be tinkered with.

This lack of tinkerability, frankly, is one of the primary beefs I have with Apple software.  It seems like it’s all designed for noobs who never need or want to do anything that isn’t explicitly supported in the design and documentation of the application.  The reason this is bullshit is simple:  software is a tool, and people always use tools for stuff they weren’t originally designed for.  Always.  Furthermore, properly trained programmers know that this is true, and construct their applications with it in mind.  This is how I was taught to write code, by people who actually knew what they were talking about (I’m referring to the computer science department at a major university).  The problem, of course, is that designing software with that degree of robustness is tougher than designing crap software, and people are lazy.  They are especially lazy (with respect to programming) when they form groups called “corporations,” because being part of a corporation forces them to re-prioritize and put profit above all other considerations.

Refer back to that link I posted above, and read further on in that discussion.  People who have contacted Apple with the question of how to roll back iTunes to version 8 have been informed that it is “not possible.”  Yet there are clearly people out there who have done it successfully, so why is Apple refusing to admit that it’s possible?  Why are they not doing their damn jobs and helping people get their computers to work the way they want them to work?  The answer goes back to design.  This version of iTunes wasn’t intended to be rolled back, because some idiot decided that was the way it was going to be, so damn anyone who wants it different, even if they have a legitimate need (and based on what I have found, there are a lot of people who have a far more legitimate need to roll back the software than I have—people who face the dreaded beachball whenever they plug in their iPods, for instance, or people who find their speakers no longer work right after upgrading, etc.).

Well, enough complaining, I need to get back to the task.  I admit, I am dreading this.  I am seriously worried that something is going to get messed up and I’ll end up wasting what little is left of the weekend getting it fixed.

[edit] Almost forgot!  Credit for the steps listed above goes to an Apple Support Forums user called GanstaPenguin.

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Memory Madness

Last summer I had a serious meltdown with my iMac G5, which forced me to make an emergency purchase of a new Mac. I ended up getting a nice 24-inch iMac from the clearance section of Apple’s website. It was about $100 less than the low-end 24-inch iMac of their current models, and I believe the CPU was a bit more powerful than the newer model.

There were a couple of areas where the older model fell short, though. One was the internal drive, which is only half the capacity of the newer model: 320 gigs instead of 640. As it turns out, 320 fits into my backup scheme (for now) much better than 640 would have, but on the other hand, that amount of space is already feeling cramped. That, however, is a whole other discussion, given the complexity of my drive/space issues.

What I am really complaining about is the RAM situation.

First, let me say that one of the appeals of the older model was that the RAM cards cost a lot less. The newer iMacs apparently use a different type of RAM, which costs 6 or 8 times as much per gigabyte as the old kind. That means if I had gone with the newer computer, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford a memory upgrade at all. However, since the newer model came already equipped with 4 gigs of RAM, I probably wouldn’t need to. The older model came with 2, upgradable to 4, and my old iMac was maxed out at 2.

2 gigs was working ok on the old computer, but since the upgrade, there have been problems. What’s more, I could not have anticipated that this would happen. (If I had, I would have bought the newer iMac.)

On the old iMac, I had three programs which were utilizing quite a lot of RAM, but the situation was tolerable. I was able to manage my usage so I didn’t do a lot of frequent switching back and forth between them, and none of my other software was particularly demanding in terms of RAM.

However, this has all changed on the new iMac. I was still running Tiger on the old one, but the new one came equipped with Leopard, and Leopard comes equipped with Time Machine. It turns out that Time Machine can be quite a memory hog itself, and since it runs automatically, once every hour, it’s not an issue that goes away. In fact, it’s a constant annoyance.

What happens is Time Machine relies on a process called “mds”, which is involved in Spotlight indexing. Basically, it’s how Time Machine knows which files to back up and which to skip over. On most systems, mds won’t take up huge amounts of RAM, but the more files you have, the more demanding it becomes. I have a lot of files, so mds is sucking up over 350 megabytes of RAM each time a backup is performed.

This is bad because it has to borrow those megabytes from other programs, which then have to grab them back after the backup is done, and this happens every hour. This back-and-forth swapping of data can seriously slow things down, if a lot of it needs to happen all at once. When I have my big memory-hog programs open, and Time Machine has recently performed a backup, I invariably have to sit twiddling my thumbs waiting for the memory swap, even on something simple like pulling up a Finder window. And then an hour later, I can look forward to it all happening again. Anyone who’s used a computer a lot knows that an hour can fly by pretty quickly, too.

Clearly I need a RAM upgrade.

So last night I ordered one. And this is the part that’s got me pissed off: My current 2 gigabytes of RAM is installed in the form of a pair of 1-gig cards, one in each of the two RAM slots in the computer. That means no empty RAM slots, so if I want to upgrade to 4 gigs, I have to buy the full 4 gigs, rather than just 2, meaning the upgrade costs twice as much as it ought to.

The final bill for this RAM upgrade, not including sales tax, comes to just over $100. In other words, the money I saved by getting the older computer has been entirely eaten up by having to upgrade the RAM to equal what the newer computer would have had, and of course the hard drive is still only half the size. So I ended up with a lower capacity computer for the same amount of money! Obviously, I should have skipped the fucking clearance model and just got the newer computer!

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