Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Time Machine backups of Aperture are not reliable?!

I've restored my Aperture Library from backup twice in the past few months. Two months ago Aperture crashed when a bad block corrupted a file. I restored from Carbon Copy Cloner. A month later I figured a dying iMac drive was the root cause, and my backups weren't as robust as I expected.

After a mildly painful Apple service call i had to restore all my data from backup. I backup the server nightly to Carbon Copy Cloner and hourly to Time Capsule, so I had to pick a backup source. I decided to restore from Carbon Copy Cloner, though I did consider Time Machine. It seems to have worked.

Today I learned that I might have dodged a bullet. I was wise to choose CCC over Time Machine ...

Macintouch Backup

Derek L

...Thanks to Antonio Tejada for his note about Time Machine and Aperture. The combination remains unreliable for me, as I'd described in my comment on this topic last June: not all items in my Aperture library get included in my Time Machine backup. Although I've been able to temporarily repair it via forcing a "deep traversal", the problem recurred in fresh TM backup sets, on multiple disks, and through several point releases of Snow Leopard and Aperture 3 (I've never used any other version, and I also haven't migrated to Lion). I gave up on it and instead depend on Aperture Vaults.

Skot Nelson

... However, after having Aperture randomly lose some of my masters -- old photos from a concert that I hadn't touched in month and just happened to click on as part -- I no longer trust my Aperture library's integrity...

Richard Tench

... Seeing the warnings here about Aperture and Time Machine, I decided to do a test recovery (to my desktop). It failed due to permissions on the Time Capsule. Though one would think that's an easy problem to fix, it isn't. At the end of 2.5 hours on an AppleCare call, they were unable to help me. I was told that Aperture doesn't work well with Time Machine...

Sigh. I miss Dantz Retrospect. I'm grateful for CCC, but old Retrospect combined the reliability of CCC with the features of a true backup.

It's been noted that in 2012 Apple OS X development is the equivalent of Siberian exile. Time Machine work must be reserved for unwanted interns.

See also:

Monday, January 23, 2012

SharePoint 2010: migration of a SP 2007 wiki

My business group has maintained a large SharePoint 2007 wiki.

Recently we had to migrate to SP 2010. The wiki went along for the ride.

I've seen some bad outcomes in software over the past 20 years. I mean -- really bad products.

I've never seen anything like this.

Wiki pages that look like they were edited by intoxicated baboons. Pages that can't be edited in IE 9, but can be edited in Chrome. Pages that can't be edited in Chrome but can be edited in IE 9. Pages that can't be edited anywhere, save as HTML.

SharePoint Designer is an option. I tried it. I shed tears for the lost spirit of FrontPage and Vermeer.

I despair, sometimes, when I see what Apple's interns are doing to iPhoto or OS X. Even they, even they, have never done anything like this.

This is the worst.

Microsoft, astonishingly, is truly finished. We really are in the twilight of the personal computer. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My MacBook fan was roaring. Again. Time Capsule edition.

My MacBook fan was roaring. Again.

This time, however, activity monitor didn't show much going on. It wasn't a Flash ad running in another user account. I didn't have a print job stuck in the bowels of Apple's dysfunctional printing framework.

It had been doing it for weeks. Sluggish performance, slow fan pinup, then continuous running. Something was draining performance and making heat -- and it wasn't showing up in Activity Monitor.

Or, at least, it wasn't obvious in Activity Monitor. I did see something called fsck_hfs using up 10% or so CPU.

To make a long story short - the problem was a defective Time Capsule backup. My MacBook was running fsck_hfs, a utility that "verifies and repairs standard HFS and HFS+ file systems". When I saw this I thought there was something wrong with my system drive - but it tested out fine.

A SuperUser tip clued me in. My MacBook was trying to verify the integrity of my 150GB backup -- over a WiFi connection. This is a singularly ineffective strategy, it would have taken days to complete. The laptop never ran continuously for that long; and there is something about this process that makes a MacBook run hot [3]

If I'd known what to look [1] for I'd have seen something like this:

Screen shot 2012 01 21 at 10 53 54 PM

Except it would have shown 2-4%. It only got to 92% when I connected the laptop to my TC via wired ethernet. It got to 92% then stuck there. The backup was toast.

I then disconnected all users and tried deleting the .img file for my MacBook from TC. That failed because the Finder can't handle TB scale image files [2]. I then used AirPort Utility's very confusing Time Capsule UI to erase the entire drive and started the slow, painful, recreation of my backups.

My MacBook is quiet and responsive again, and fsck_hfs free.

That was painful.

Backup is an unsolved problem.

See also:

[1] I wasn't so direct, instead I wandered about searching Console error messages. There I found:
search console for com.apple.backupd (all messages)
Attempting to mount network destination using URL: afp://;AUTH=No%20User%20Authent@Molly.local/Molly_Internal
Backup failed with error: 21
Error writing Time Machine Information file: /Volumes/Molly_Internal/Stanford_MacBook_0017f2f04828.sparsebundle/com.apple.TimeMachine.MachineID.plist
Error writing to backup log. NSFileHandleOperationException:*** -[NSConcreteFileHandle writeData:]: Input/output error
Event store UUIDs don't match for volume: Escanaba
While plumbing Console I discovered an unrelated error that distracted me for a while - a pile of errors like this:
Jul 20 18:27:55 localhost com.apple.launchd[1] (com.apple.SystemStarter): Failed to count the number of files in "/System/Library/StartupItems": No such file or directory
Googling on this one I discovered this is an old OS X bug, one some systems a routine update deleted this folder. I recreated it using terminal:
cd /System/Library
sudo mkdir StartupItems
That cleared up a bunch of Console error messages, but it didn't fix my real problem.
[2] Kind of amazing, but there you go. Apparently they can be deleted via terminal, but erasing through TC is safer. You can only erase the internal drive, if you want to erase a TC mounted external drive you need to move it to a Mac and erase it there.
[3] The MacBook runs hot whenever it does an 802.11n TC backup. I wonder how much of this is heat output from the WiFi/encryption systems.

Organizing kid school accounts with OS X: Chrome to the rescue

In the twilight of the general purpose computer, I struggle to balance OS X and Apple tech, Google services, parental obligations, and getting work done.

Our iOS  and OS X devices are parental controlled -- at least as far as they can be. Among other things, that means Google services are unavailable on child accounts. [1].

Schools, however, make increasing use of Google Apps [2]. This is how I reconcile that use case with our general approach to home computing:

  1. You need the username and password for the school Google Apps account. Example: kid_name@school.mn.us.
  2. Create a single non-controlled "homework" account on the primary homework machine.
  3. Use Google Chrome, not Safari, for this account.
  4. In Chrome create a user account for each child. For each account, from Chrome Preferences, choose to sync Google. You will be asked for the school user name and password.
  5. Add gmail, docs and so on to the toolbar.

Each child uses this single OS X account with their own Chrome identity. Use of this account requires direct parental supervision. It is used only for homework. On personal OS X accounts our kids don't directly access our Family Google Apps domain, they use OS X Mail.app, for example, to get email. They don't know their Family Google Apps passwords.

[1] Partly by design and partly due to market disinterest, Google services are not compatible with OS Parental Controls.
[2] Alas, this transition occurred even as Google's Hyde crushed its Jeckyl.

OS X shared printing: Is it just me?

Is it just me, or is OS X shared printing broken beyond all repair?

I spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with print failures on Leopard and/or Snow Leopard shared Brother USB printers using Apple provided drivers. The only reliable printing I've had with OS X was with an ethernet connected network printer. [1]

Yet another example of why general purpose computers are dying (and I've a lot more to say on that ... later).

[1] The very best, most reliable, printing I ever experienced was using Mac Classic, AppleTalk, and Apple's LaserWriter Select (not sure of product name) in the early 1990s. I'm planning to donate our Brother HL-2140 and buy a Brother networked printer.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lessons from Apple Store out-of-warranty repair of a Seagate drive

Mysterious application crashes, including corruption of Aperture file data, exposed bad blocks on a slowly dying 2 yo iMac drive. Modern drives aren't supposed to show their bad blocks, and of course they should never corrupt a file. So I knew the drive needed to be replaced.

The 27" iMac 11 (i5) is not user-serviceable. It can be done, but it's hard to keep dust out of the display. So I compared repair costs at FirstTech in Minneapolis to the Roseville MN Apple store. FirstTech's service costs were about $200, but Apple's service fee is a flat $40 (offsets the high cost of their proprietary designs). Both charge far more than retail for a hard drive. Apple dinged me $226 to replace a 1TB Seagate 7200.12.

The replacement drive is an ST31000528ASQ revision AP24 S/N 5VP9Z4TC. I was told it had a 90 day warranty. A comparable new drive from Amazon is $134, so Apple adds a $100 markup on the drive. (Of course I'd have preferred a 2TB replacement, but Apple out-of-warranty repairs follow warranty rules -- so no upgrades.)

Overall the Roseville MN Apple store experience was mediocre. Some of this is because of Apple policies, but mostly this store is bursting at the seams at this time of year. Apple needs more retail.

If I were to do it again I'd order replacement parts from a quality Mac after-market vendor and I'd do the repair myself, or I'd order the part and pay FirstTech to do it. When an out-of-warranty Apple repair makes sense, I'd look for a quieter Apple store.

Here's what I learned for future reference:

  • Apple wanted to keep my old drive. They can probably get money from Seagate. This was a problem because I hadn't secure-wiped the drive, and although my passwords are on an encrypted image I prefer not to have our family data floating around. I also wanted to reformat and stress test it myself, and decide if I could use it as an emergency store. Store management wrote that "I needed the drive for data recovery" and that let me keep it. (Not true - I had 2+ complete backups.)
  • I thought I was told the drive would cost about $160, but in retrospect that was probably my mistake. $160 would be low markup. In any case, get estimates in writing if possible.
  • When I went for an estimate I was told to expect a 3 day turnaround. In fact it took about 9 calendar days -- including 3 days to repeat the drive test and confirm the bad blocks. It took so long it ran into a business trip; the store was grumpy about storing it until I returned.
  • They expect to have a guest or maintenance account available for testing. I had none on this machine. They were able to test anyway of course, but this is worth knowing.
  • The machine had additional memory added, but the repair receipt listed the original memory. This was mildly worrisome but it came back with its bits.
  • The installed drive was formatted with the same OS as the old one - Snow Leopard.

I tested the drive with Tech Tools Pro. The SMART check on the prior drive showed no problems except out-of-range temperature variation. The SMART check on the new drive also shows out-of-range temperature variation! I hope this is a quirk of TTP and the iMac's thermal regulation system rather than a drive problem. The block scan passed 1,953,525,168 blocks, 0 bad. (Although no bad blocks should ever be exposed, the good block total will fall over time.) The overall SMART test also shows a tendency to read errors, though still within normal limits (Hardware ECC recovered, Raw Read Error Rate).

Lastly, I chose to do my restore from a bootable Carbon Copy Cloner backup rather than my Time Capsule backup (I trust CCC more). I'd never done a full clone restore on a Mac; it worked well but there were a few quirks...

  • During my initial testing I'd created a user account on the new disk. The default CCC restore would have left those files in place -- which is an abnormal install state. Also, the default restore seems to leave "more recent" files untouched, which might produce a mixed version system.
  • I set the restore to overwrite "more recent" files and to move non-matches to an archive folder.
  • After the install completed I deleted CCC_archive on the target system
  • After the restore it appears TC is backing up my entire system. That will take a week over the home wireless.

For extra insurance I'm going to leave my CCC backup untouched and rotate it offsite. My routine backups will be to an older CCC backup and to Time Capsule. In my initial testing however the restored data appears fine. I also have my original drive which is fully readable, I'll wait a month or so before I wipe that drive and stress test it.

Update: Time Capsule is trying to backup 340GB over WiFi; it's doing a full backup. This will take weeks. I've set my TC backup to omit all but Users, tomorrow I'll bring it to the computer and connect by ethernet.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Lion continues to disappoint: the Duplicate/Save problem

I have a document open in Pages.

It's saved somewhere.

What is its name? Where has it been saved? If I "Duplicate", how do I find the "Duplicate"? What is the name of the "Duplicate"?

Apple's change to Lion's file management behavior is a significant hassle. Macintouch has a detailed list of complaints from numerous Lion victims.

It's worse than a hassle though. It's a scary sign of incompetence. If Apple's developers are capable of this level of judgment failure, what else might they do?

Lion to Vista comparisons are well deserved. I may keep Snow Leopard on our household machines indefinitely, which means I won't be doing much with iCloud. It also means I'll delay upgrading our hardware as long as possible.

See also:

Update 1/24/12: Inside Apple explains why Lion is a troubled product ...

... status fluctuates with the prominence of the products on which one works. As the success of the iPhone and iPad grew, the coolest faction of the company was the software engineers working on Apple's mobile operating system software, known as iOS. Hardware engineers and product marketers connected with the devices ranked high in the pecking order, followed by people in the iTunes, iCloud, and other online services organizations. Employees associated primarily with the Macintosh, once the cocks of the roost, were considered second-rate in the Apple hierarchy by this time. In terms of corporate coolness, functions such as sales, human resources, and customer service wouldn't even rate...

It feels like the province of interns now. Imagine who gets to work on iPhoto ...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

NYT's Tedeschi misses the iOS Porn story

Sadly, Bob Tedeschi, who should know better, missed the big story in his NYT article on Porn and iOS parental controls.

When he wrote that it was "an hour's work" to secure an iOS device I almost snorted coffee out my nose.

This is the article I wrote him:

re: Safeguarding a Child’s Mobile Device From Pornography

Bob, I'm surprised you missed the truck-sized loophole in Apple's iOS Parental Controls. Alas, by missing it you came to precisely the wrong conclusion.

It is not 1 hour's work to secure an iOS device. It is almost impossible.

The loophole is embedded WebKit. Disabling Safari does not disable WebKit.

Almost all free Apps, and many commercial apps, include links that will, when clicked, bring up an embedded WebKit browser. From that browser it is often only a few clicks to anything.

For example, my 15yo showed me how he could use the links on this travel app to bring up wikipedia, and from there Google.

Almost all iAds, and all Google platform ads, use Webkit.

This problem is common in apps that are rated for children.

The solution is simple. Apple should provide an option to block Webkit use as well as Safari use. They haven't done this because they aren't feeling any pressure, and their ad platform is already doing poorly.

I am sorry you missed a golden opportunity to put some pressure on Apple, but I hope in a follow-up article you might mention this.

You can write him too.

Update: I was amazed and impressed to get a personal response to my email - on a Sunday night! He's verified the issue and is now researching it. Wow. I am a fan.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

iPhoto 9.2.1 to Aperture 3.2.1 - it doesn't actually work

Apple promotes Aperture's seamless import of iPhoto content.

I've been skeptical, but I gave it a try on a plane flight. I added 21 images to a brand new iPhoto 9.2.1 Library and I created albums and events. I then gave descriptions to images and to both albums and events. Then I imported the images into Aperture.
The iPhoto.Events became Aperture.Projects. The iPhoto.Albums became Aperture.Albums. iPhoto.Folders became Aperture.Folders.
Eventually. At first the iPhoto.Albums were missing. They showed up minutes later on reopening Aperture. This took so long it feels like a bug.

Image metadata seems to have been preserved - titles, captions, etc. I've written about this previously for iPhoto, Aperture and Picasa Web Albums.

That's the end of the good news. All of the descriptions I added to Albums/Events were lost. Aperture Projects/Albums can't have annotations. So that description you wrote in iPhoto about the family reunion? It's toast.

Aperture's iPhoto import is feeble - and Apple's marketing of Aperture's iPhoto import is deceptive.

Apple does stuff like this though. I'm not surprised they did a crappy job on iPhoto import.

What's truly weird however, is that nobody besides me seems to care. That means Apple isn't going to fix this.

There are times when I know I live in the Twilight Zone. This is one of those times.

See also:

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to cancel or reschedule an Apple Genius Bar Reservation

I don't think you can currently cancel or reschedule a Genius Bar Reservation from Apple's GB reservation site.

If you have iOS though, you can cancel or reschedule using Apple's Apple Store.app. It's not obvious how ...
  1. Tap Stores
  2. Find store where you have reservation.
  3. Click Store then Genius Bar. From here you can create a new appointment, or cancel or reschedule an existing appointment.
I don't think there's an Apple Store.app equivalent for the desktop, so, like iMessenger, this is strictly an iOS service.

Friday, January 06, 2012

OS X opens Aperture every time I start

Every time I logged into my Lion machine, Aperture started up.

I checked the Login items option on my user account. Nothing there.

Then I figured it was a bug with OS X 10.7 Lion resume. I deleted all the saved states, including Aperture's (Delete Specific Application Saved States from Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Resume).

Didn't help.

Finally, something clued me. This wasn't a new Lion problem, it was the old 'launch Aperture when iPhone connected' bug. Same thing can happen with iPhoto or Image Capture or Preview or "Auto Importer". This particular machine is connected to a USB hub that had some iPhones attached.

I don't know the proper place to control this peculiar OS X behavior, but I do know it can be controlled through Image Capture. I opened that app, and clicked on the iPhones icons on the left side. For each one I set 'Connecting this iPhone' to 'No application'.

Problem solved.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

10.7 Lion: Automation and AppleScript

Surprise! Via Macintouch we learn that Mac OS X 10.7 Lion has Automation features.

It is weird that Apple's official Automation documentation is hosted on macosxautomation.com which is "not hosted by Apple". Even though it's seemingly an Apple site (with a broken icon on page 1).

Even weirder for all of us who figured AppleScript and Automator were dead, is that Lion has a lot of AS/Automator features. Some show up on Apple's Lion Features page, but many do not. Given rumors about Apple's new focus on textbooks and iPads, it's noteworthy that Automator has many new ePub support features.

Apple is eccentric.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

WordPress doesn't have a built-in table editor

The WordPress visual editor doesn't include tables. Neither does Blogger of course, nor, for that matter, MarsEdit.

FrontPage had terrific table support in 1995. WindowsLive Writer has decent support now. Otherwise, web tables doesn't get a lot of love. RapidWeaverdoesn't do tables. Sandvoxisn't any better and neither is Apple's abandoned iWeb.

SeaMonkey inherits the table technology built into Netscape Composer in the 1990s. TextEdit does tables (!) and (unlike Pages) will export HTML. It's hardly a web page editor though.

DreamWeaver does tables - and costs $400 (though I qualify for the $150 teacher edition).

It's too bad. HTML tables are really brilliant. I'm guessing implementation is very expensive especially when tables are combined with CSS; the market doesn't support this level of complexity.

Parental Controls on iOS and OS X: what we do now

A year or two ago I wrote about how Google and Apple have both failed Parental controls. Since then things have not gottenmuch better.

In response to a comment on an old post, this is the compromise I use for the children's accounts on iOS and OS X.

  1. Google is blocked. I find Bing searches easier to track and control because it doesn't use https.
  2. Children get our family Google Apps domain email through mail.app IMAP, not through Gmail.
  3. Children access our family Calendars from their iPhones, not from the desktop. (I could use iCal on the desktop, but iCal is one of the worst pieces of software garbage ever produced.)
  4. A 'Family and Learning' account can be accessed at any time. It has very limited net access, has WorldBook, has apps, iTunes, etc.
  5. Each child has their own account. Parental control is set to 'automatic'  with a few domains specifically allowed. I was never able to get domain specific filtering to work. After they are on the computer I review their browser history with them. They could of course delete specific browser pages, but I don't believe they have (the computer is very visible and public). I stopped reviewing log files because Apple's log file review UI is almost as crappy as iCal.
  6. Because iOS apps have so many back doors to webkit, particularly via ads, we don't use any 'free' apps. Safari is disabled. For now we allow iTunes despite the content it provides -- the boys are getting older.

This works for us, but Apple's Parental Control support is lazy and incompetent. They simply don't care.

Android/Google, as best I can tell, are worse. Note that Google Gmail explicitly states all US users must be 14 or over (COPPA partly, but really this is a Google copout). i don't think Android OS includes any default parental controls.

I don't know how Windows 7 does. I suspect it's a bit better. I can't find anything about parental controls in Metro/Windows Mobile.

See also: