Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Guess Where Birmingham?

I have volunteered to administer a new Flickr Group called Guess Where Birmingham?. This simple game requires other group members to guess where a photo was taken. Given the level of difficulty that some of the early posters have come up with, this should be an intriguing way to use one's memory banks of Brum!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lay and Skilling Guilty!

The Enron saga has just gone through another chapter. I doubt if it is the final chapter as both Lay and Skilling have the funds to fight their guilty verdicts through the appeal courts. The important aspect of this case is, however, that it serves a warning to others and also acts as a form of retribution for the many ex-Enron employees who lost everything.

A Backup Plan for Macintosh Computers

This backup plan has been evolving over the past few weeks and is now in place. I thought it might be useful for other Mac users to know that there is a simple and effective data backup procedure out there and, once initiated, this easy to use routine should mean that major losses of data will become history. And remember that major data losses can occur one of two ways - hard drive failure, which is all too common, and loss/theft of computer, which when it happens is a nightmare.

What you need:

As well as your computer, you need two firewire hard drives the same size as your computer's hard drive. If you have two computers, then the back up drives need to be the same size as each of the computers' hard drives, though the second backup drive could also be one larger drive with two partitions. You will also need a copy of SuperDuper! for each computer. So the total cost could approach $300 (maybe more) per computer. Given the time it takes to restore the typical backup data provided by inferior backup software, I would say that this is money well spent.

Why so many hard drives? Well, we have two PowerBooks and they travel a lot. If the backup drive goes everywhere the computer goes (which it should if daily backups are to be made) then there is the risk that both computer and drive could be lost or stolen. The latter has happened to me and it was only because I had backed up the hard drive to a desktop G4 that I didn't lose everything. The additional hard drive stays at home and is only copied to once a month (or more often if justified). This is the ultimate insurance against the unthinkable.

Our set-up:

Our two PowerBooks (let's call them A and P) have 40 Gig and 80 Gig hard drives. So I bought equivalent LaCie-Porsche portable firewire drives. These are not cheap but they have two important advantages: small size and no power supply requirement. Remember that backups are only made if the process is convenient. These portable drives make for simplicity and ease of use.

I then took an existing heavyweight brick of a LaCie 120 Gig drive and divided it into two partitions using Disk Utility, naming the partitions A Backup and P Backup. The A Backup has 38 Gigs usable space, the P Backup has 76.5 Gigs usable space, each large enough to take the usable space from the PowerBook's drives.

Then I downloaded and paid for two licenses to Shirt Pocket's SuperDuper! backup software, loading one copy on each of the PowerBooks and placing the program icon in the Dock and having the OS load the software at startup.

First Backup:

With the LaCie-Porsche drive connected to the PowerBook I started SuperDuper! and selected the internal hard drive as the Source and the Backup drive as the destination. I then told SuperDuper! to copy all the files and to make a bootable copy.

I then connected the LaCie "brick" drive to the PowerBook and repeated the process, copying to the appropriate partition.

I then did the same with the second PowerBook.

The time to copy took between 1 to 2 hours per drive, so this is not a quick task. However, you can use the computer while the process is ongoing though I rather think you should not move files around too much.

It is a simple task to test the bootable drives. With the drive connected, restart the PowerBook with the Option key held down. This then offers you the choice of startup drives. And this, of course, is also how you can quickly access the backup drive should the internal drive fail. By the way, these backup drives literally "mirror" the original hard drive.

Regular Backups:

After a day of use it is surprising how many files are changed, added and deleted. But SuperDuper! can scan the drive and only copy those files that have been changed (erased files will also be erased on the backup drive). So subsequent backups may only take a few minutes. SuperDuper! can even be programmed to turn itself off after completing the backup.

Monthly Backups:

The second backup provides around 30 days of "history" which may be useful if an important file has been erased or modified. But its main purpose is that second level of insurance and for this reason it should be stored away from the computer (ideally in a fireproof cabinet or safe). And an alarmed reminder in iCal serves an obvious purpose!


The system works! Because SuperDuper! is so very user friendly (it even tells you what will happen in lay language!) and because the resulting backup is a full mirror of your hard drive, the level of confidence it brings makes backups that much more worthwhile. By comparison with heavyweight software like Retrospect, this system is unbelievably simple yet very complete. You can download the software for free and evaluate it but I seriously suggest you will want to purchase the license! It comes with an excellent pdf manual that is also written in layman's language.

The ultimate test is to take a bootable backup drive and start a different computer with it. Hey Presto - there's your desktop, your dock, your apps and your files! As they say, Super Duper!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mary Arden's House

We spent yesterday with Lucy and the grandchildren at Mary Arden's House, Wilmcote. Mary Arden was Shakespeare's mother. This is a wonderfully low key opportunity for a family day out. It was also an opportunity to take a few photos with the new Nikon.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Power Failure

Back home to a stinking kitchen - a power failure over a week ago tripped the circuit breaker and all the power in the kitchen stayed off. The freezer wasn't frozen. Nor were the contents. All those blackberries and plums we picked last September and had yet to eat; now in the garbage.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Flickr Groups

It is interesting how Flickr manages to direct one's type of photography and photographic subject. Flickr meets do this, but so do the various groups that you are invited to join.

For example, I have always enjoyed taking photos of bridges. But now I look for photo opportunities whenever I am near a bridge. Why? Because I belong to seven different bridge-related groups! And one of them is called bridgepixing, a word that is defined as "Specifically visiting a bridge to take photos of it from every available angle. Spending time at the bridge to feel its presence in its setting. Driving across a bridge and taking photos of it thru the windshield is not Bridgepixing."

This is clearly a good thing in that a simple walk in the park may become a source of inspiration prompted by such Flickr groups.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Calgary in Springtime

Incredible weather this week in Calgary. The thermometer may have hit 30ÂșC today. Lot's a blue skies and sunshine. I left work early this afternoon and walked down to Prince's Island and took a few photos. Here is a sample:

Prince's Island Park, Calgary

Monday, May 15, 2006


Positive 5 star recommendation. Simple to use and therefore likely to be used. I understand why Dantz’ Retrospect is in trouble (although I hear that IT types still like it for large network backups, etc.)

My computer has an 80 Gig drive so I bought a LaCie-Porsche 80 Gig portable drive and the backups are working like a charm. April’s 40 Gig drive will backup to an existing 120 Gig LaCie drive that has been partitioned into two 60 Gig volumes - one for backup, one for photos (which are also backed up on Flickr).

Following the first complete backup of all files, SuperDuper! creates a bootable disk that mirrors the PowerBook’s hard drive. By restarting the computer with the option key pressed, it is possible to select a bootable drive (there will be two available, the internal and the external). Booting from the Firewire backup provides the same desktop, layout and so on - an exact mirror of the original. Very neat. I even tried starting April’s Powerbook with my backup drive and it worked a treat.

Spring has Sprung

Bluebell, Blue Sky

Finally. Several days of hot May weather have caused Nature to catch up quickly and the trees and hedgerows have gone from brown to fresh spring green in a matter of days. Wild flowers are out in profusion - the bluebells are particularly good at the moment - and the birds are going crazy with their vocal mating rituals. I read recently that it is possible that a prolonged cold spring could give way to a long hot summer with plenty of sunshine. That would be nice. Finger’s crossed!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A New Backup Strategy

April's hard drive has been replaced and the last backup restored. But what an effort. Thinking there must be a better way I did some research and have opted for the following strategy, primarily using an application called SuperDuper!. This simple OS X application costs $27.95 and allows a mirrored drive to be easily created and easily maintained. This cost doesn't include buying a second hard drive, which should be the same size or larger than the computer's hard drive. Because my mirrored drive is a Firewire drive, it can act as a backup boot drive. If you are in the market for a better way to backup files and data, consider SuperDuper!

British Politics - at a crossroads?

So, Tony Blair's popularity is at an all time low. Yet, as this leader suggests, there is no real alternative to lead the governing party.

Mr. Gordon Brown appears to have lost his way from No. 11 to No. 10 Downing Street (not a good sign) and anyway, from what I can tell, I don't think there is an automatic "succession" for leadership of the governing party.

It all sounds a lot like one of those emerging African democracies to me.

Motley Fool on High Gas Prices

This article is a classic! Whenever you get frustrated by politicians' antics (every day?) simply re-read this. Your blood pressure will lower as you realize you are not alone.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Hard Drive Failure :(

Yes, this time it is April's hard drive in her 12" PowerBook. Suddenly took a turn for the worse and started grinding instead of spinning. It's a Toshiba 40 GB drive and will be replaced under the Apple extended care warranty that April insisted on having. But the last back up was several weeks ago and even then restoring data to a new drive isn't that straightforward.

To try to make things easier, I purchased Data Rescue II and attempted to recover as much data as I could. This software is "non-invasive" but the drive was fast disintegrating so I got just a few files before the message started to look like this (on about the fifth attempt):


So, the lesson is - back up more regularly and find a way to back up a clone of the hard drive rather than just the user files.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Birmingham Villages

This past weekend we spent some time exploring two of the Birmingham villages, namely Yardley and Kings Norton. As is the case with most large cities today, they consist of a central core and numerous satellites that have been engulfed by suburbanization. London has numerous villages (Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Dulwich, Greenwich to name several of the better known ones) and so does Birmingham, even if on a smaller scale. To help promote an understanding of the Birmingham villages we have started two Flickr Groups.

Yardley is located off the Coventry Road on the southeast side of the city. The village in situated in a veritable oasis of green surrounded by inter-war housing estates. There are several historical sites including the parish church of St. Edburgha and Blakely Hall. We spent over an hour talking to a couple who help to maintain the church and also act as guides to school children who visit. The Flickr photos carry more historical information so we won't duplicate it here.

Kings Norton is located on the southwest side of the city, just off the Pershore Road. (it is interesting that one of the main roads out of Birmingham should be named after what is a relatively unimportant destination today - that all changed with the dissolution of the abbey at Pershore as it was then an important religious center). The church of St. Nicolas is a fine building which can be seen from afar. The associated fifteenth century timber framed buildings are currently being restored using lottery funding.

Of the two Yardley needs help - maybe some lottery money would be better spent there than on spa facilities for the employees of Manchester United Football Club (as was reported last week in the press). Yardley has a lot of graffiti and our friends there tell us that the area is dominated by unruly people who have no regard for property. CCTV cameras don't seem to help much and the children's playground is covered in graffiti - now why would anyone want to do that?

By contrast, when we stop at the local convenience store on Kings Norton Green we couldn't help but note the positive rapport between young and old. Perhaps not surprisingly we saw less graffiti in Kings Norton (though there is evidence that much has already been cleaned off the old Saracen's Head).

Most visitors to Birmingham cannot believe the city can be any older than 1750 and even then most of what they see is either Victorian or modern. So to stumble across 15th Century buildings can be quite a surprise. The city is doing what it can to preserve several of the older buildings but there seems to be a lot more than can be done.