Tag Archives: Computer

OSX Time Machine – Brilliant or Bust?

Aren’t backups a wonderful thing?

As an IT professional, I can tell you that most people never backup their computers.

Organizations are a bit different. Most recognize the need for backing up, but fewer actually test their backups.

In OSX Leopard, Apple recognized that people don’t backup their computers. Further, they recognized that, increasingly, our lives are recorded on our computers – from our personal documentation to our priceless photographic memories. In Leopard they introduced Time Machine, an automatic backup and recovery system designed to make the process painless and automatic.

I’ve used Time Machine since it first came out and, like most most people, I’ve had no real reason to need it.

Oh… I’ve restored the occasional file, but it’s never been critical… until now.

When we were burglarized two weeks ago, they took, amongst other things, my wife’s iMac. We know that the burglary occurred between 10:30 and 11:30AM because at 10:38, her iMac made one last Time Machine machine backup across the network. If there was any positive thing to take from this it was that we had a full and complete backup of her machine in Time Machine format. But how well would that work when we went to restore it onto a new computer?

For starters, we had some data that we needed immediately. Part of the Time Machine enhancements in OSX Snow Leopard is the ability to open other machine’s backups, so we were able to use my laptop to open and verify her backup, plus grab some important files right away.

Now that her replacement computer has arrived, it was time to put the backup to the real test: Restoring her entire old computer backup onto a new computer, with a completely different hardware configuration. The old computer was a 24″ iMac with 350Gb of disk – 200Gb used – the new one, a new model MacBook with 250Gb disk.

The first thing I did after the burglary was to backup her backup – before I started trying to restore files from it. Time Machine backups are stored in a single file and I copied that file from the network backup drive onto a spare external drive. I had hoped that I would be able to use the external drive to restore the backup as that would be faster than pushing the entire restore across the local network.

When the new MacBook arrived, I plugged in the external drive and fired up the machine per the instructions. When you setup a new Mac, it allows you to copy your data from another machine – a real timesaver if you’re migrating from one machine to another. One option is to copy from a Time Machine backup.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work. It simply failed to recognize the external drive as having a Time Machine backup.

My remaining option was to try to restore from the network. I joined the local network and the MacBook instantly spotted my Time Machine drive.

That’s when the next problem occurred. The drive I use is a terabyte drive, partitioned into 4 different drives, each containing the Time Machine backup for a different computer on my network. The MacBook spotted and reported all four drives. I selected the one associated with the iMac and it asked me to log in. It went into a never-ending wait, displaying simply the word “connecting…”

While that continued on for half an hour (before I gave up), one of the other drives almost immediately popped up stating “1 Time Machine Backup Found.” This was worrisome. Could it be that Time Machine was too confused by having four different drives? Certainly, I didn’t wish to restore the drive it was indicating was available. All the while, the “right” machine was failing to complete its connection.

I tried several times, using both my wireless connection and a hard-wired connection, with no difference in result.

Eventually, I decided that I’d see what happened if I selected the “wrong” Time Machine backup. Lo and behold, it presented a backup that was for the right computer. It somehow was showing me the backup for my wife’s computer on the Time Machine for my computer – probably because I had opened her Time Machine with my laptop to restore those files right after the burglary.

And so I began preparing for the restore. There was just enough room to restore everything and after it thought about the backup for about 10 minutes, I let me select everything at start the backup.

Estimated restore time over the gigabit LAN: 5 hours 10 minutes.

Here I am, six hours later and it has just finished.

And what’s the verdict? It was slow, a bit problematic to get going, not entirely intuitive, disappointing in that it couldn’t see the external drive with a copy on it but ultimately absolutely brilliant!

I am looking at an almost exact copy of my wife’s computer, intact and catching up on back e-mail and a few system updates.

Time Machine really saved our bacon on this one!

iPad… is there a gap to fill?

IMG_0139I’ve been shying away from reading commentary today about the iPad, mostly because I wanted to form my opinions in a vacuum (like I always do 🙂 ) on the device.

I’ll say in retrospect that I am one of those people who thinks a tablet computer is generally a bad idea… at least as a mass-produced consumer good. Apart from specialized vertical markets, I’ve just not been convinced that I’d have a reason to use such a device…

…and then there’s the e-book reader.

I can’t get thrilled about e-book readers, either. Certainly, I read enough books (see my pictured current bathroom reading stack) that I ought to appreciate the idea of a single, compact reading device, but I just like books. Equally certainly, I read a heck of a lot of material on a computer screen, so I’ve not got an aversion to screen-reading. The Kindle and the Sony ebook reader both leave me flat. As a small electric device, it will never be where I want it to be, while books are scattered about my house, ready for me to pick up and start reading.

So, given that I don’t like tablets and I don’t like e-books, will the iPad change my mind?

Maybe… but only just.

My iPhone, which I’ve now had nearly two years, was a game-changing device. Most of my e-mail correspondence is done on it. 20% of my blogging, nearly 100% of my Facebooking and 60-70% of my daily news reading is done on it.

I do these things because it’s on my hip or at least within arm’s reach most of the day from the time I get up until the time I go to bed.

I heave learned to rely on it being at hand. No more do I have to get up and toddle into the computer room to look something up or to kill some time reading news. Some might call that laziness, but I call it convenience. I also find that, with constant access, I look more things up. In short, I use more internet time now that I have the iPhone.

Given that, I can say that it would be nice to be using a larger screen, so, provided that the iPad becomes the world’s most expensive coffee table book and I keep it constantly next to my sofa… I might just find it a useful and cool device.

I’ll likely not be running out to the buy one any time soon.

Adventures in Objective-C – Part 2

On the subject of the Stanford University (iTunes U) iPhone Programming class.

I had a professor at university who walked in the door on the first day, slammed a book on the podium, and in a loud Germanic accent bellowed, “There will be no stupid questions in this class! The only stupid questions are the ones you don’t ask.”

To my young, impressionable 17 year-old mind, it made so much sense that I thought it almost profound.

The problem is, youthful idealism can be rapidly eroded away.

There are stupid questions. The ones that used to particularly annoy me were when a fellow student would ask the professor a question that had just been covered or had just been asked by a different student and answered by the professor.

I remember sitting in class thinking, “Pay attention next time. You’re wasting my time.”

These unpleasant memories all came flooding back to me during the first few videos of the Stanford iPhone class and I really thought I might have to give the whole endeavor a miss. When I was 17, I didn’t have to take blood pressure medicine.

Fortunately, within the first few classes either the offending students were gone, or they’d gotten with the program. Since then, it’s really been invaluable to my study of iPhone programming. Typically, books have never worked well for me hen learning a new programming language/paradigm/whatever.

Hands on is what works for me but even that needs some “seeding” with some information. The iPhone developing environment/community was stifled for some time. Apple’s (some say) draconian non-disclosure agreement for early developers prevented source code and discussions from appearing on the net. It even prevented books on the subject from being printed. Thorough as Apple’s documentation is, it’s better as a reference than as a starting point. There hasn’t been a whole lot out there until recently.

I’ve completed plowing through “Beginning iPhone Development: Exploring the iPhone SDK” (Dave Mark, Jeff LaMarche) and am most of the way through initial development of my first iPhone application – more on that another day – so I’m not coming at this class completely cold. Nonetheless, it has helped me resolve numerous logical problems with my in-development application. This is not because the detail or content of the course is far-reaching, but simply because…

Let me digress for another moment.

Here’s another thing that I learned very quickly at university. Not all professors are created equal. In the Computer Science Department in the College of Engineering they had two kinds of professors. They had staff professors who carried a typical teaching workload and they had professionals who worked at some of the local companies who came in and taught the 7:20AM classes and then nipped off to to their real jobs.

You could guarantee those 7:20 classes were the best. In Computer Science knowledge and theory are essential but there is no substitute for solid, real-world experience. The professors who had both were awesome.

So back to the class. The two lecturers, Alan Cannistraro and Evan Doll, both Apple employees working in iPhone development, really demonstrate their knowledge of the subject. It comes across best when they’re answering some of those (good and/or not-so-good) questions from the class. More than once, when they switch over to do some code on-the-fly or respond to something that’s just askew from their prepared lecture I have those, “A Ha!” moments that get me closer and closer to understanding.

I feel this class is really a good example of what iTunes U can do. While I’m not exactly sure what the incentive for universities are to put things in iTunes U, this has convinced me to check out some other courses.

I read yesterday that the Stanford iPhone class has had over a million downloads. Impressive. Of course, if that represents 1 million viewers, (which I doubt it does, but we’ll just use that number for giggles) that still means that at least 900,000 will do nothing with what they learn. That leaves a 100,000 who will try and 90-95% of the them will probably have to go buy Macs to do Xcode development on. I can see why Apple seems happy to share its employees in this project.

Adventures in Objective-C – Part 1

I’ve been trying to get my head around Objective-C and Mac/iPhone programming for the last month or so. At this point, I think I’ve got most of the major concepts down.

As an Object Oriented (OO) language, it bears a certain familial resemblance to Java, which I typically program in these days.

While I’m not going to say that Java is a “better” language, I do feel that parts of Objective-C are a capricious conglomeration of logic-unfriendly syntax.

It’s the implementation of these things that’s irritating. Obviously there’s a certain amount of familiarity and personal preference, but over this series of articles, I’ll highlight a few. I’ll start with a simple syntax example.

Generally in OO programming, you break things into programatic “objects”, which define the properties of an object and the actions that such an object could do.

In Java speak, these are properties and methods, in Objective-C they are properties and selectors. In Java you “call” a method, in Objective-C you “message” a selector. Same thing, different terminology. Clear as mud? Good, then let’s continue.

Typically, properties on an object are protected behind accessor method, such as “getXXXX” and “setXXXX” where XXXX is the property name. Sometimes these are called “getters and setters” – that’s in Java, of course, Objective-C calls them “accessors” and “mutators”. Objective-C also uses a slightly different convention. Mutators are still “setXXXX” but accessors are just “XXXX”, which can result in a little ambiguity as to whether you’re looking at the actual property variable or the accessor selector.

Java uses “dot-syntax” to refer to an object’s methods, so far example, if you have an object called “newton” and it has a method called “dropApple()”, you would access it like this:


Objective-C uses square bracket syntax, so the same thing would be:

[newton dropApple];

…and if each one took a single parameter, they would look like this:



[newton dropApple:velocity];

It gets a little muddier when we move to two parameters.

In the example above, I’ve passed a variable called “velocity” which we’ll say is of object type “Speed”. Let’s add a second object type of “Height”, with an instance variable called “headHigh”

We would DECLARE the java method like this:

void dropApple(Speed incomingSpeed, Height incomingHeight) {

…. do stuff


and call it like this

newton.dropApple(velocity, headHigh);

Objective-C would be declared like this:

(void)dropApple:(Speed *)incomingSpeed dropHeight:(Height *)incomingHeight {

…. do stuff


and called like this:

[newton dropApple:velocity incomingHeight:headHigh];

Here’s my first irritant, Objective-C selectors use named parameters – which I like better than Java, but only on the second and subsequent parameters. The first is identified by the name of the selector. It’s just a mixed-bag inconsistency. I hate inconsistencies in my programming languages.

This same system also helps cause Objective-C messages to tend to be very long.

Java and Objective-C also share another trait, that being if a message/call returns an object, you can then, in turn message/call that object immediately without passing it through an unnecessary intermediary object variable.

Let’s say we’re somewhere inside an object that is running active code – like a program. I can always reference back to myself with the special keyword “self”, so if my program has a property of type Person, and a Person object has a property of type “phoneNumber” and a PhoneNumber has a method that returns a formatted representation of the number, we can get to that formatted string in java like this:


Self being an object with a getPerson() accessor that returns a Person, which in turn has a getPhone() accessor which returns a Phone, which in turn has a format() method to return a pretty string. It’s not uncommon to see these things strung together 4 and 5 levels deep inside Java code, and it’s a bit difficult to read, but convenient, and sometimes a lot better than assigning each step to a new variable, like this:

Person aPerson = self.getPerson();

Phone aPhone = aPerson.getPhone();

String aString = aPhone.format();

How does Objective-C handle this? Like this:

[[[self person] phone] format];

Simpler, right? Yes and No. It’s irritating. Why? Because you have to know, in advance, how many layers deep you are going so that you can put the right number of square brackets on the left. If not, you have to come back later and add them, which really “breaks the stride” of typing. It may be less letters to type, but it takes longer to type.

Ah, but along comes Objective-C 2.0 with a “solution” to this: Dot-Syntax!

Oh, but it isn’t the same as Java’s dot-syntax. Objective-C’s dot-syntax only applies to properties, not selectors. (Actually, properties are selectors, you’re not seeing the actual variable, but these are special) That means you can do this:




but not


instead it would be:

[self.person.phone format];

Why is this a problem? You don’t always know if something is a “property” or “selector”, and since the IDE (XCode in this case) helps fill this stuff in from it’s calculated list of available options, it promotes a certain natural “coding laziness” by letting the IDE do the work of remembering names for you.

So you start typing “self.pe…” and about that time it suggests “self.person”, so you hit the arrow and continue typing “.ph…” and it breaks in again and suggests .”phone” so you hit the arrow to accept and then you start “.format” and nothing happens, then you realize, “oh, it’s not a property”, so you go back and delete the period. That’s bad typing technique. And, then, of course, you have to go back to the beginning of the clause to add a “[” and the end of the line to add “]”

I know, I know. “Gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe”

Next time (probably) “Why there isn’t a consistent method for delegates, actions and ad hoc delegates”

Mac Mini – Cable Maxi

IMG_0436.JPG I mentioned that I got my new Mac Mini to replace my antique G4, but what I failed to mention was that I still had an older Cinema Display that’s still gorgeous (if not wide screen aspect) but it uses the older, proprietary ADC connection – which not only supplied power to the monitor, but also USB and allowed the monitor to act as the on/off switch for the computer.

Mac Mini uses a DVI connector, so I had to buy and ADV to DVI connector, seen at the top of this picture here. Note that it is almost as big as the Mac Mini. It weighs more, too.

Now, if I could just find a way to connect the cool Apple Speakers that came with the G4 but also have a proprietary connector that Apple doesn’t support anymore… 🙁