Tuesday, November 6, 2012

I set out to acquire a mountain lion trophy

I decided it was time to install Mountain Lion on my MacBook Pro.

I usually wait to upgrade anything until the early adopters have worked with the producer of the software to iron out the bugs that inevitably show up.  Also, I want to give the third party developers of other software a chance to get their products to work with the new operating system or the new hardware.  I try always to wait until we are past version 1.0 and are on at least version 1.1.

I finally have a reason to upgrade

One thing caught my eye and made me realize I was missing out by not having Mountain Lion.  My cable box has two tuners.  This means I can only record two programs at a time or record one program while watching another.  In my local TV-watching area, “Nikita”, “Grimm”, and “Fringe” all come on at the same time.  So I recorded “Nikita” and “Fringe”.  I can watch “Grimm” the night after it airs by going to the NBC web site.  But that means watching it on a small screen like my iPad or my MacBook Pro.  Mountain Lion may offer me an alternative!

With Mountain Lion comes AirPlay.  That means, as I understand it, with an AppleTV hooked up to what I euphemistically call my "entertainment center", I can navigate to the NBC web site and start up “Grimm” and watch it on the TV screen.

Preparing for the upgrade

I first made sure I had a bootable backup of my MacBook Pro's hard drive.  I use Personal Backup from Intego for that purpose.  It actually uses your previous backup as a basis and just does an incremental backup, so that takes a much shorter time than a full backup would.  I had to run it twice.  The first time it reported scanning 1,393,340 files, resulting in a task of copying 474,245 files and deleting 61,603 files.  It ended up copying 471,615 files in 3 hours, 22 minutes.  But I ended up getting 3900 errors.  It appeared to me, looking at the error log, that it was trying to find documents on my laptop that no longer exist.  Running it a second time, it scanned 1,330,497 files (since it had deleted the 61,000 files) resulting in a task of copying 242,979 files and deleting 248 files.  This time it only reported five errors.  So I felt I had a good bootable backup that I could use if an emergency arose.

Just to be sure, I rebooted from the bootable backup. One of the ways you can do this is by going into System Preferences and changing the Startup Disk.  The backup worked fine.  So I rebooted from my regular laptop hard drive.  

Next I looked at the RoaringApps web site.  This site gives you a very comprehensive list of applications and informs you of whether they are compatible with Lion or Mountain Lion.  Even though I found an application I use that isn't compatible with Mountain Lion, one that has some problems, and one that wasn't even listed, I decided to proceed anyway.

Ready to download the installer

The only way to get Mountain Lion is by downloading it from the App Store.

Once it was downloaded, I found an app called Install OS X Mountain Lion in my "Applications" folder.  The first thing I needed to do was to burn this app to a DVD.  This way if I ever run into problems where I have to reinstall Mountain Lion, I will have a ready copy of the installation application.  You will find that after you install Mountain Lion, this application will disappear from your “Applications” folder.

After that was done, I was ready to run the Install OS X Mountain Lion application.  The first thing I had to do is agree to the license.  Next, I was asked to select a place to install it. (My laptop hard drive showed up as the only choice).  The next thing I saw was, "Preparing to install.  Your computer will restart automatically".  It indicated there were 3 minutes remaining to finish.

After it completed that procedure, the message appeared "Will restart in __ seconds."  You may click a button to restart sooner.  It told me that it needed to close all open applications. Once I clicked my approval, it then proceeded.

The next message I saw was, "Installing OSX on the disk.  Time remaining: About 34 minutes."  The computer just sat there for at least a minute before I saw any change to the screen.  Finally I saw the progress bar move.

Mountain Lion is installed!

It finished an hour and fifteen minutes later. A message appeared stating that some of my software was not compatible and may cause problems, and therefore it was moved. The message said I could delete the software anytime I chose.  The two pieces of software it specifically mentioned were Parallels and VMFusion, both applications used to run Windows in emulation on my laptop.  An “Incompatible Software” folder was created at the root level of my laptop hard drive (the same place you find your “Applications” folder and your “Users” folder.)  There I found the files and applications that the installation process had moved.

The first application I opened, of course, was Mail.  A message appeared on the screen saying that the Antispam Engine would like to access my contacts to pre-populate my list of trusted e-mail sources. You are given the choice of OKing this or not.  It seemed a reasonable thing to do, so I OK’d it.

But then Mail crashed.  In the window that appears when an application crashes, the information in the crash report indicated that the creation of the Sandbox had failed and that the Container object initialization had failed.  I clicked to send the report to Apple and relaunch Mail.

This time a window opened with the message, “Welcome to Mail”.  I was also told that existing messages needed to be upgraded.  After OKing this, I was told that Mail was upgrading my Mail database.

Next I was asked about how I'm dealing with junk mail.  I was given three options: ask again later, stay in training, switch to automatic.  So I spent some time setting up Mail the way I'm used to using it modifying the tool bar, setting up how to handle junk mail, whether to show the side bar, etc.

Finally, I was able to look around to see if I could see if anything had changed to the desktop.  The first thing I noticed was a new icon to the right of the Spotlight magnifying glass in the Menu Bar.  It looks like a checklist.  This is the new Notification Center, which I anticipate may take the place of Growl.  I’ll have to make that decision after I have used it for awhile.  Right now, the only notifications I see in the Notification Center are those dealing with iCal.  When you click on the icon, your whole desktop moves to the left, and your list of notifications are displayed.  At the bottom is an icon that I guess is supposed to be a gear wheel.  When you click on it, System Preferences opens to the Notifications Preferences where you can choose how it will work for you.

Any new software updates after installation?

I decided at this point to check again for software updates that may apply specifically to Mountain Lion. 

The Software Update menu selection under the Apple icon in the menu bar took me to the App Store instead of opening the Software Update application like in Lion.  I couldn't see any way to ignore the one software update that I was told I needed.  It involved RAWimages compatibility when uploading pictures.  I don't have a camera that has the capability to download RAW images, so I didn’t need this software update.  I finally found the answer about how to ignore this update in the MacRumor forums.  The solution was to make sure that the full description of the update is showing. (You click on "More..." if necessary in order to show the full description.) Then you right click in the window.  "Hide update" will appear on the screen.  Click on that.  That hides the software update.  You can get it back later if you want to by selecting "Show all software updates " in the App Store "Store" menu.

The next thing I attempted was to open iPhoto. At my first attempt at doing this, iPhoto crashed.  On my second attempt, it Informed me that my photo library had to be updated and that large libraries could take hours to complete.  Mine took less than a minute.  But then there were two windows open, one normal window displaying pictures, another window with no pictures.  When I tried to close that one, iPhoto quit.  When I reopened it, everything was back to normal.

The next day I was asked if I want to enable dictation.  I was also warned that if I did, my contacts and other information will be sent to Apple.  I enabled it, but I don't expect to use it much.

By this time I was able to take stock of how much space I had lost on my hard drive by upgrading to Mountain Lion.  I was surprised that I actually saw a reduction of 4 GB of space used.

Up and running

So I am up and running with Mountain Lion.  For the work that I do, not much has changed that affects my day-to-day use of the computer.  Once  I got over the bumps described above, I haven’t had anything else that has interrupted my work.

So a week has gone by, and I was anxiously looking forward to viewing “Grimm” on my TV using AirPlay.  But when I called up the TV program in my browser and was ready to watch it, I couldn’t see how to get it to work.  I thought I was supposed to see an AirPlay icon in my menu bar or somewhere, like maybe in the browser window.  So I Googled my question and was taken to the Apple Support pages.  It turns out I don’t have a MacBook Pro that is able to use the AirPlay mirroring.  I have a Mid-2010 MacBook Pro and it requires an Early 2011 or newer.

Friday, October 19, 2012

A History of Social Media [Infographic]

Kind of a side-note, but I thought this was very interesting and informative.

A History of Social Media [Infographic] - Infographic
Like this infographic? Get more content marketing tips from Copyblogger.

Monday, October 1, 2012

I give GoToMyPC a try

In my last blog, it seemed that I had finally found a back-up program that would back up the files on my laptop to an off-site server “in the Cloud”.  The solution was a program called xTwin.  However, the problem was that the program broke the files into “chunks” that were saved to the off-site server.  You could not look at one of the chunks and get any information from it.  You had to use xTwin to restore the file back to its original state.  So this did not satisfy my need of being able to access my files from my iPad or iPod Touch.

In this installment of my quest, I rethink how I will get to my files from my iPad or my iPod Touch.

Since I wouldn't be able to get to my files by connecting to the off-site service using my iPad or iPod Touch, it finally dawned on me, “What if I could just leave my laptop running and access the files from the iPad by going to my laptop instead of an off-site server?”  I would still use the off-site server to backup my laptop.  But I would get to my files on the laptop rather than get to the backups that are stored on the off-site server.

One of the podcasts I enjoy listening to is The Nerdist.  I was listening to one of their podcasts which was being sponsored by GoToMyPC.  I thought, that might be a solution.  GoToMyPC is a product of Citrix, which has been producing networking products for years.

What about GoToMyPC?

I got the App from the App store.  Then I went to the website because you also have to load software on your Mac (or PC).  You have to establish an account with GoToMyPC.  You get a 30-day free trial, but you have to give them your credit card information up front.  The cheapest plan for one user and one computer costs $9.95 per month or $99.00 per year. (See their pricing plans here: GoToMyPC Pricing Plans

The installation didn’t go smoothly because the installation window was hidden behind the browser window.  I had three installation windows open on my desktop and was seeing the same panels a second time before I realized what was going on.  After I figured that out and finished the installation of GoToMyPC on my MacBook Pro, I was ready to try it out.

You have two passwords to create and remember.  One gets you into your account with GoToMyPC.  They other gets you connected to your Mac from your iPad.

GoToMyPC logo

So with GoToMyPC running on your Mac, which is indicated by an icon in the Menu Bar at the top of your screen, you start up the GoToMyPC on the iPad.  You first enter the password that you previously set up for your GoToMyPC account.  Then you enter the second password that you set up to be used to connect to your Mac.  You are immediately presented with a help panel which shows how to use a mouse icon that appears on top of the screen.  After dismissing the panel, you see the same thing you would see on your Mac if you were sitting right in front of it.

You move the mouse icon around on the screen along with its associated pointer, and click on things just as you would if you were moving the pointer around on the screen on the Mac.  The response time is relatively slow because, after all, you are going out on the web and then back.  When I was sitting right beside the computer working on the iPad, the delay was something like one to five seconds.  So you have to be patient as the cursor moves over a menu item, for example, because you experience a delay before the menu item is highlighted.

I have chosen to have the Dock hidden on the right edge of my screen on my Mac.  I couldn’t figure out how to get the Doc to show up on the iPad.  So I had to unhide it on my Mac so it was always visible.

If you are using Spaces or Mission Control, you will see the Space that was active when you started up GoToMyPC.  To navigate to another Space, you can drag a window while working on your iPad to the other Space, and that will take you there.  The problem is that the delay factor means that you could have jumped two Spaces before you iPad screen shows that you have jumped one, so you could end up in a Space other than the one you were heading for.

I also ended up with the menu for Mail at the top of the screen, when I was actually working on another application called Bean.  The drop down menu was for Bean, not for Mail.  But the top Menu was for Mail.  (See screenshots).  I was able to get back to normal operation by switching to Mail and then back to Bean.



So before leaving my Mac sitting open when I leave to go off-site with my iPad, I would need to just leave the Finder open.  I would want to close everything else.  That way I will avoid conflicts between running applications when working on my iPad, and I won’t have to deal with Spaces.

Maybe I've found the solution

So the bottom line is, you do not go to a file on your Mac or an off-site server and get it to your iPad and work with it in an iPad App.  Rather you go to a file on your Mac, and open it on your Mac and work with it in a program on your Mac, doing all of this while looking at your iPad.  You don’t need an App on the iPad which is capable of opening and reading and writing to a file stored on your Mac.  Rather, working from your iPad, you open the file which is stored on your Mac and work with it in the program that you would ordinarily use to work on the file on your Mac.

GoToMyPC on the iPad has a drop-down menu at the top of the screen which allows you to close the App on your iPad,  use arrow keys overlaid on the screen, use the iPad keyboard customized to provide the other Apple keys such as Control, Alt, Option, Escape, etc., set your preferences, and help.

This seemed to maybe be the solution I was looking for to be able to backup my files to an off-site server and be able to work with my files while I was away from my laptop but still had my iPad with me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Trying to use Carbon Copy Cloner with a Network Drive

This effort to find a solution for backing up my hard drive in the Cloud has proven to be much more difficult than I even anticipated. At least it gives me material for my blog.

In this installment of my quest, I try to use Carbon Copy Cloner to back up my files to the Network Drive in the Cloud, but run into more problems. So I go looking for a different back-up program.

In my last blog I described how Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) had deleted most of the backup I had made by using the Finder and Fetch to copy the files from my hard drive to the off-site file storage service I had selected ( Online Storage Solution (OLS-CS) ). Nevertheless, I knew that the fault was mine for checking off an option in the program that caused CCC to do what it did. So I decided after a day of gathering my composure to continue on with Carbon Copy Cloner. I figured I had learned my lesson and hopefully would not make a mistake like that again.

So I restarted the backup of the Desktop folder using CCC. First CCC made a tally of changes that had been made since the last time it did a backup of the folder. The scanning of the 5500 files took less than a minute. Then it proceeded to backup the files. It finished the backup of the Desktop folder in three hours and forty minutes, but it reported a lot of errors. I guessed that this was due to connection problems with the Network Drive.

So I immediately reran the backup. This time the backup took over five hours (I’m not sure exactly how long because I was in bed asleep when it finished.) I assume that the time involved largely has to do with the connection speed I was able to get over the course of the backup. Again there were a lot of errors, but there were about half as many as the time before. This was promising. That told me that once the file was copied successfully, the next time I ran the backup, that file wasn’t touched. Where there was an error during copying however, the files were replaced on the next backup with a good copy of the file.

So I reran the backup again. This time it took three hours, and there were only 19 errors. Again, I reran it. Again it took three hours, and this time there were only 8 errors.

The next time I reran it, I came back to it after five hours. In that time it had only copied 243 MB, maybe ⅛ of the files it indicated it was going to copy during this run. In other words, it had stalled. There were no indications of errors or problems. I guess the connection to the Network Drive had been dropped, and CCC had been sitting there spinning its wheels ever since.

So one more time, I restarted the CCC backup. It ran overnight and finished at 10 in the morning. It had copied about 2 GB and finished with two errors. I guess I can live with that.

But now I got back to thinking about my Documents folder, with the 55,000 files totaling about 30GB. If I had had that much of a struggle to get 5,500 files copied from my Desktop folder, what was it going to be like to get ten times as many files copied?

What to try next?

I went back to the research I had done on the back-up programs that are out there.

The one program that promised to work with a Network Drive was xTwin. Even though it costs USD$99, it does have a seven-day trial. So I thought I’d give it a shot.

Defining the source, the files and folders to be copied, was not that much different than any of the other backup programs. But when I went to define the destination, there was immediately a big difference compared to any of the other programs. Once I let the program know that I wanted to back up to a Network Drive, there were all kinds of questions I needed to answer about how the connection was to be made. I had to choose between seven different protocols (AFP, SMB, HTTP, HTTPS, FTP, FTPS, or SFTP), and enter the required login data.

Connecting with OLS-CS, you use the HTTPS (Secure WebDAV) protocol.

Once I had let the program know what I wanted to do, I clicked on the “Start backup” icon. It reported that it would be backing up 33,279 files or 29.43 GB. It’s estimated time to complete the task: 22 - 24 hours. The console window shows your progress as it completes its task, updating the estimated time to complete as it goes. It also gives the speed it is able to accomplish as it copies the files. I was seeing anywhere from 50 to 425 kiloBytes per second.

The Downside

When I looked at the Finder window to see the progress that was being made copying the files to the Network Drive (and to make sure the files were being copied to the right place this time and that no files were being deleted), I came to fully understand how xTwin works. To quote from their FAQ page:

The backup data stored by xTwin is compatible with open standard technologies (CPIO or CPGZ archives, split files, Open SSL encryption…), and does not use proprietary formats, so you can still access your backup data without xTwin if you ever needed to.

In another part of the FAQ they say:

Keep in mind that xTwin is a backup solution, not a file-sharing solution. However, it is very easy to access the contents of a backup on another computer than the one it was generated from, as long as you have a copy of xTwin also installed on this computer.

What xTwin does is break up the files on your hard drive into chunks. You can set the size of the chunks, or let xTwin set the size. If a file is smaller than the chunk size selected, the file may be combined with other files to create a file of the set chunk size. Then those chunks are sent over the internet to the Network Drive. You can even set up xTwin to send more than one chunk at a time to speed up copy speed.

You then need a program (like xTwin) if you ever want to retrieve one of your files. Or, if you know how, you can use the Terminal to open your file.

So, what I learned that this indeed was the most reliable and efficient way to copy my files to my off-site storage. However, once they were copied (and xTwin can do incremental backups), I could not get to them on my iDevices. I could only get to them by running a program like xTwin that would be able to restore them to their original form.

So to summarize:

Using the Finder and FTP is slow and cumbersome and doesn’t lend itself to incremental backups.

Using FoldersSynchronizer, Personal Backup, and Carbon Copy Cloner, while each has pluses and minuses, is slow and cumbersome and has lots of problems working with an off-site Network Drive because of dropped connections.

Using xTwin is very reliable, but doesn’t leave the files in a form that allows for access from my iDevices.

So now I’m at the point where I need to decide what way to go from here. There is still the option of copying everything to an external drive and putting it in a safe deposit box. Or I could just forego having an off-site backup altogether. That, however, is not the best solution, in my opinion. I still want off-site backup, and I still want to be able to get to my files from my iDevices. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Shopping for a back-up program

In my latest blogs I have been describing how I have been exploring a way to back up my over 50,000 files to an off-site service so they will be secure in case my laptop and my local external backups are destroyed.  I explained why I chose Online Storage Solution (OLS-CS) to use for this off-site storage of my backed-up files.  I also explained why I needed a back-up program to handle the backups.  Copying files to the OLS-CS servers wasn't a satisfactory solution because later changes, additions, and deletions needed to be tracked and managed.  For that, you need a back-up program.

I had tried FoldersSynchronizer by softoBe and Personal Backup by Intego, but was having problems because when the connection was lost between my computer and the Network Drive on the OLS-CS servers, the backup just stopped, and I had to start the backup from the beginning over and over.

So I went out on the internet to see if there were any back-up programs that advertised their ability to maintain a connection or resume the backup after a connection is restored.

There are A LOT of backup programs out there.  Here is a list of a few that I looked at and a brief comment on each.

SmartBackup - $15 - Advertises itself as a fast and lightweight backup application for OSX, ready for Mountain Lion.  It appeared to be too simple for what I needed.  The program assumes it knows what you want when you are setting up the back-up parameters, leaving fewer things that you can change.

File Synchronization - starts at $15 - Appears designed to do synchronization only, not backups.

xTwin - $99.99 - Though expensive, this looks like a very good program.  It has gotten a couple really bad reviews, but those were for earlier versions.

Carbon Copy Cloner - $30 - Good reputation.

IBackup - Monthly fee based on amount of storage - This is a total on-line back-up service which includes storage and sharing of files. Not what I was looking for.

Mathusalem by softonic - No longer supported

SilverKeeper by LaCie - No longer supported

Of all the programs I looked at, the name I was most familiar with was Carbon Copy Cloner.  It has received glowing reviews for the past several years.  Being a contrarian, I had resisted getting it, but I decided that it was time to see if it lived up to the hype.  There is a 30-day free trial period.  After that it costs $39.95.

I thought I would start with backing up my Desktop folder.  There are only about 5500 files in that folder, and I thought it would be a good test of Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC).

This is a very comprehensive program with lots of options.  During the trial period, a window opens when you launch the program that reminds you of when the trial expires and gives you the option of continuing to use the trial or purchasing the program.

The main window allows you to select the source and the destination.  You can either choose to copy an entire disk to the destination or a particular folder.  The destination can either be a disk or a folder on a disk.  Since I was copying the Desktop folder, which resides inside the "bgmason" folder, which resides inside "Users" folder on my hard drive, I have the same folder structure created on the Network Drive.  I created a "Users" folder on the Network Drive, and then inside that I created a "bgmason" folder.  At this point, because of the previous work I had done making a backup of my files (see previous blogs), I had a "Desktop" folder and a "Documents" folder inside the "bgmason" folder on the Network Drive.

Once you make those selections, you have the ability to deselect files and folders that you don't want copied.  Even though they are small files, it doesn't make a lot of sense to copy all of the .DS_Store files, for example.  By deselecting them, there are that many fewer files to copy and it will somewhat reduce the time involved in making the backup.

On the destination side, you let CCC know what kind of media your backup will be made to.  You also are given options about whether or not to delete files on the destination that don't exist on the source or to save those files in an archive.

Finally, there is a button for further customizing the settings concerning data that already exists on the destination.  This includes a button called "Advanced settings..."  This is where I ran into trouble.  One of the selections is for removing files "on the destination that I have excluded from the backup".  It goes on to explain, "If an item exists on the destination (e.g. from a previous backup), and you have deselected that item from the list of items to be copied, that item will be removed from the destination."  Since I was deselecting some files, including the .DS_Store files, I thought I should select this.  That way, even though they currently existed on the destination because of my previous efforts to copy my files using FTP and the Finder, they would be removed.

All of these settings are remembered by the program so that the next time you select the same source and destination, you will not have to remember your previous settings.

So I started CCC off on its project to copy all the files and folders in my Desktop folder to the Network Drive.  This was taking some time, as I expected it would, and I proceeded to do other things on my laptop as the backup was proceeding.  But I glanced up at one point, and noticed that all of the files and folders in my Documents folder on the Network Drive were disappearing!  All that copying it had taken me days to accomplish using FTP and the Finder was being flushed down the drain!  I stopped CCC and assessed the damage.  I still had all the folders inside the Documents folder whose names started with A-C.  But the folders with names starting with D-Z were gone from the Network Drive.

In analyzing why this happened, I finally realized that when I said to remove files on the destination that I excluded from the backup, that this did not refer to the files and folders inside the "Desktop" folder, but rather the files and folders inside the "bgmason" folder.  Since I hadn't told CCC to copy the "Documents" folder, it commenced deleting it.

Needless to say, I was very discouraged at this point at decided to quit for the day. I would reconsider my approach, and then tackle the problem after I'd collected my thoughts.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Continuing saga of trying to back up files off-site

If you have read my previous blogs you know that I have over 50,000 files totaling over 30 GB that I want to back up to an off-site location. Because of the large number of files, I decided that most of the back-up services offered out there would not suit my situation. Those services are good for handling collaborative projects or for backing up particular "important" files and folders. But they are not set up to work with large numbers of files. I learned that what I needed was a "file storage" service.

After settling on Online Storage Solution (OLS-CS) to be my file storage service, my next task was to get my files copied to their servers.

I found that I could use the Finder and drag and drop files and folders that are located on my computer's hard drive to the Network Drive opened when connecting to OLS-CS. Or I could use an FTP client software to copy the files. This took a long time to move all the files in my Documents folder. Working on and off, it took about 5 days.

But once I had done that I realized that whenever I made a change to a file, or added or deleted a file, I would have to remember what I had done so I could copy those files to the OLS-CS servers. That would require a lot of effort and would be prone to errors. I needed a back-up program that would identify those incremental changes to my files and folders and copy the changed items to the Network Drive.

If you read my blog of July 23, you know that I had originally tried to use the back-up programs I own to get the files copied over, and that I ended up using my FTP software, Fetch, and the Finder instead. But I now knew that I had to be able to use a back-up program. So I tried once again.

The backup program that I have been using the longest is FoldersSynchronizer by softoBe. It has been around a very long time and is very easy to use. When I tried to use it, however, I found that the connection to the Network Drive gets dropped every once in awhile. It may appear to be connected when you look at the Network Drive in the Finder. The Finder wouldn't change appearances if the drop was only momentary. FoldersSynchronizer, however, stops the backup. It apparently has no way of resuming the upload once the connection is broken. In my research on the Internet, apparently the technology exists for resuming downloads, but it is much more difficult to resume an upload.

Another thing I began to realize as I started trying to use a back-up program is that in order for the program to do an incremental backup, it has to keep track of what existed before it begins doing the backup. So the total time it will take to do the incremental backup depends on how long it takes to scan the files to see which ones were changed, which ones are new, and which ones are no longer there.

When I saw that my old stand-by, FoldersSynchronizer, wasn't going to work, I decided to try a program I bought more recently, Intego's Personal Backup. I tried using it for several days. It seemed to make progress, but then it would quit. Each time it scanned my files to build a database of the files it would need to change. That process took three hours. Then it would start copying files to the Network Drive until the connection was broken, at which time it would simply stop copying. There is no error message. You just have to look at the information being provided and notice that nothing is changing. Each time you restart, there are fewer total files to copy because in the meantime the vast majority of them have not changed. Gradually you will get it down to the point where everything has been copied, and the only thing that will need to be updated are the files that you actually added, modified, or deleted during the period since the last backup.

Since I had already copied all my files to the Network Drive using FTP and the Finder, I couldn't figure out why FoldersSynchronizer and Personal Backup were finding that the files had changed and they had to copy the files all over again despite my previous effort. I eventually noticed that the creation, modification, and last modified dates were all being changed! When these programs copied the files to the Network Drive, the old dates were not being retained! Instead all the files were being given the date they were copied to the Network Drive.

I fired off a quick email to Support for FoldersSynchronizer, but never received a reply. My research on the internet tells me that this is a common problem and it is pretty much a mystery as to why this happens.

In my next blog I decide to go shopping for a backup program that won't fail when the connection to the Network Drive breaks. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The latest update on my attempts to back up files off-site

If you read my last blog you know that I thought I had a solution for backing up my files off-site. But for the last couple weeks I have been trying to optimize the solution I found and get it to work the way I think it should. That is why I haven't posted anything since that last blog.

I want to recap to lay out where things stand as of now. (Sorry to repeat some stuff, but you may not want to go back and read my previous posts.)

How to move your back-up copies off-site

"Experts" agree, it is a good idea to have a backup of your files off-site so if your house or office is destroyed, you will still have a copy of your files. I suppose you could limit this off-site backup to just your "important" files, but what is "important" and what isn't? Making that decision could take more time than simply going ahead and making the copy.

There are several ways to create this off-site copy. If you are a business, it may be easier because you may own several locations, and you can just have copies on multiple hard drives in the various buildings you own. For a private individual, however, it isn't that easy.

If you are that private individual, you could make a copy of your computer's hard drive on an external hard drive and store that external drive somewhere like a relative's or a friend's home, or even put it in a safe deposit box. But then there is the problem of periodically retrieving the back-up hard drive from its off-site location so you can update it with the latest files.

I hadn't come up with a good, easy way to accomplish this goal of having an off-site backup. But then all this talk of the "Cloud" lead me to believe that I could back up my files to a server "out there".

As I said in my previous blog, for some time I have been using a service provided by Nomadesk. However, it was always a struggle using their service and I never was able to back up everything I wanted to. So I went looking for a better service.

What is being backed up

My situation is this. I have over 50,000 files on my MacBook Pro laptop totalling about 30 GB. My goal has been to copy all of that to an off-site server. I don't want a solution that provides automatic syncing of my files to the Cloud. Those types of solutions seem to be designed to sync those "important" or "essential" files. Apple's iCloud service, for example, is designed to sync your mail, music, photos, and iWork documents. It is not designed to sync documents you scan, or documents created in other applications like Microsoft Office or Photoshop, etc. Other services are designed for collaboration, so any files associated with a particular project would be backed up or synced to the service and then all of your collaborators on the project would have access to those documents.

I decided that the terminology for what I am trying to do is file storage. I want a service that will store copies of all my files on their servers and provide a way for me to recover those files if needed after some sort of disaster, or simply provide access to the files from my iDevices whenever I am away from my laptop.

As described in my previous blog, the service I found that I thought would provide what I was looking for is Online Storage Solution (OLS-CS). They provide unlimited storage for your files which you can access either through their web application which they call "File Manager", or by connecting to their server as a Network Drive which appears in the Finder on your Desktop, or on your iDevices through an App called "AjaXplorer". What I have been struggling with over the past couple weeks is how to copy the files from my laptop to the OLS-CS servers.

When I posted my last blog on July 23, I said I had been able to get all the files in my Documents folder copied. I accomplished this by using Fetch, my FTP client, and the Finder, simply dragging and dropping files from the list of files in the Documents folder on my hard drive to a Documents folder I created on the Network Drive.

Simply copying files is not the solution

This might seem to have accomplished my goal. I now had an off-site backup of my files.

However, there is one problem with this way of backing up your files. The minute you change, add, or delete a file, you need to go to your FTP software or the Finder and copy the files that were changed to the folder on the off-site server. 

You definitely don't want to do this manually. It would be just to difficult to keep track of what you worked on, created, changed, and deleted during the period since the last time you copied your files to the backup.  So you need a back-up program that is going to do this for you, a program that will do incremental backups based on what has changed in the source folder. So this is what I've been studying for the past week. What software is out there that will be able to do this for me given the large number of files involved and the fact that I'm trying to do my backup to a Network Drive.

In my next blog I will try to explain what I have learned.

Monday, July 23, 2012

My Documents Are Backed up Off-site

Backing up files

After setting up the off-site backup service I chose (see previous blog), and testing it a bit, I decided it was time to get serious.  If this solution was going to work for me, it had to at least handle all the files I had in my Documents folder.

When I did a "Get Info" (Command-I) on my Documents folder, it said that I had a little over 30 GB in the folder.


My favorite program for backing up files, outside of the scheduled Time Machine backup, is FoldersSynchronizer by softoBe.  I have used this program for years whenever I wanted to back up an entire folder of files to an external location.  I never have used it for trying to synchronize files.  

As indicated in the previous blog, there are two major ways of getting to your files on the off-site location.  One is to access them through an FTP program.  The other is to get to them by opening the Network Drive using the Finder.

So I started by trying to use FolderSynchronizer to copy all the files in my Documents folder to a Documents folder which I created in my area on  Online Storage Solution (OLS-CS).  I went to the "Go" menu of the Finder, then "Connect to Server . . .", then entered the server address.  Once I was connected, the network server appears as a disk drive on the desktop and as a shared device in the left panel of a Finder window.  From this point you can treat the device just as any other hard drive connected to your computer, creating folders, dragging files from one folder to another, etc.

With FoldersSynchronizer, you drag the source folder to the top of the Copy window and the destination folder to the bottom of the Copy window.  When you click the "Copy" button, the program starts inventorying the files it will have to copy.  Then it starts copying the files from the source to the destination.  I got an error message almost immediately which said that I didn't have permission to access the folder on the Network drive.  I have no idea why that error was received.  That is a mystery that can wait for another day.  Instead, I tried using Personal Backup, part of the Intego suite of products, which I also own.

This worked, after a fashion.  By the time it had taken an inventory of what it was going to copy, it was predicting it would take over 3 days to finish.  I let it run for an hour.  In that time it had copied about 500 MB.  Since I had been able to copy 2 GB in a half hour the day before, I decided to quit.

Doing things manually

I decided to do things manually using FTP, or simply dragging and dropping using the Finder.  If you have a lot to do, FTP is better because if you use drag and drop and encounter an error, everything just stops and you have to figure out what was copied and what wasn't and start over from there. FTP does some error handling. 

Because I had stopped the backup that had started, I had to determine how far the backup had gotten.  Then I started dragging and dropping groups of files from that point using the Finder.  I wanted to get to a point where I could drag and drop whole folders using FTP.

I probably would have been better off just letting the backup run using Personal Backup.  It ended up taking me 6 days to complete the backup.  It actually might have been better that I did end up doing it more or less manually because some things happened along the way.

In the first place, the OLS-CS server was down for a few hours two days in a row.  The first time (on 7/18) it was down for about 3 hours.  The second time (on 7/19), it was down for about 2 hours.  After the two hours, it appeared to be up.  I could get to my files.  However, I couldn't copy files to my folders.  Later in the evening when I tried, I had full functionality back.  Hopefully this service won't experience too many outages like that.  I tried submitting a help ticket, but this time I never got a reply.

Secondly, I ran across my Virtual Windows XP machine in my Documents folder.  That one file is over 8 GB.  It is the file that is used by a program called "Parallels" to run Microsoft Windows on my Mac.  My FTP program,  Fetch, was copying it as a text file. (I had Fetch set up to automatically select the correct format--text, binary, etc., when copying files.)  Fetch was uploading the 8GB file at 34 KB/s.  It was reporting that it would take 59 hours.  Well, none of that made any sense, so I just decided to be satisfied with on-site backups for that file.  I stopped the copying of the file and deleted it off the Network drive.

One thing I observed was that the time it takes to do a backup will depend on the upload speed you are able to get out of your connection.  When I started working on Friday, the upload speed started out at between 122 & 124 KB/s.  At one point on Saturday, I was only getting 73 KB/s.  In the evening Saturday, I saw 265 KB/s.  That didn't last long.  It was soon down to the 160's range.  The speed will change while the backup is in progress.

Job completed (for now)

I finished backing up the Documents folder on Saturday.  I think I still need to back up my photos and music off-site.  But that may not be true anymore now that Apple has made iCloud available.  But I may wait a couple weeks before I attempt to figure that out.  I want to continue testing this new service I've contracted with for a bit longer before I take these additional steps.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Off-site back up solution

I may have finally found the solution I've been looking for which will provide an off-site location for backups of my laptop.

Backup, backup, backup

We are always told to backup, backup, backup. The more backups the better.

I started using computers in the olden days of the 1980's. In those days I was rescued many times by backups when a floppy disk failed or a hard drive crashed for whatever reason. Though things don't fail as often as they used to, it instilled in me a kind of obsession to make sure everything is backed up.

Time Machine, of course, is an amazing solution because you just have to set it up, and then basically, you can forget it (with some caveats, of course.)

The problem with Time Machine is that it only backs up files. If your boot disk goes belly-up, you can't get it back by using Time Machine. You have to create a boot disk from an original installation disk or disk image, and then you can restore your files from Time Machine. But I'm pretty sure you will have lost all of your settings, and those will all have to be restored.

So about once a month I try to create a bootable backup on an external hard drive. This is basically a clone of my laptop's hard drive. If my hard drive were to fail, I will be able to boot from the external backup and restore everything to a new laptop hard drive, if that is what is called for.


But we are also told to make sure we have a back up far from our house in case the house is destroyed and all the computers and disk drives with it. Since 2009 I have been using a service called NomaDesk. I got in the door early and the cost was very reasonable. And, though they emphasized the ability to share files with other people, I was able to use the service to back up my files. As the years passed, however, they seemed to become more restrictive on the types of files they would allow on their system. The first thing I noticed was they couldn't handle "packages", which is how Apple bundles programs. As time went on, I was calling their support people more and more for help. Things would work for awhile, but then I was back with the support folks.

I must say, their support was excellent--very responsive and willing to try to fix the problem.

After the last go-around, though, I finally gave up on NomaDesk. It just wasn't working for me. So I went shopping.

Comparison shopping

One of the best sites I found for seeing what is out there is onlinefilestorage.com . This site specializes in the field of on-line backup and storage and is an excellent place to learn about on-line backup and storage and to comparison shop. I spent a day on the site doing just that and came up with a spreadsheet which you might find helpful. You can download it from here: online backup.xls . NomaDesk is not one of those they review.

Backup vs. storage

The first thing I learned after all of that research was that I didn't want an on-line backup solution. What I really wanted was on-line file storage. Most of the reviews on the onlinefilestorage.com web site were of companies that provide on-line backup. They provide software that monitors your local hard drive, and whenever you make changes, it backs-up the new file, much as Time Machine does. Or the software lets you schedule back-ups at regular intervals. But all of the services have certain limitations. Like NomaDesk, most won't back up your programs or applications. Some won't back up your computer's settings. A few limit the size of the file you can back up.

Off-site file storage does not have all these bells and whistles. Automatic or scheduled backups and the ability to sync may be exactly what you want. But I'm more of a hands-on person when it comes to things like this. Off-site file storage is simply a way to store your files on someone else's server. You manage the files yourself including adding, moving, and deleting.

Online Storage Solution (OLS-CS)

It didn't take me long to find Online Storage Solution (OLS-CS). I am very excited about this service. In my testing this morning everything worked perfectly, just as I wanted it to or expected it to. Here is an image of their Dashboard:

There is no free trial. You have to sign up before you can use it or even test it. The cost is only $48 for 2 years for UNLIMITED storage! If you don't like it, you can get a full refund within 45 days. If you find out you don't like it after the 45 days have passed, they will give you a pro-rated refund.

There are no restrictions on file types or file size you copy to their service. You can use your own FTP program or backup program to copy the files. You can access their server as a network drive from the Finder. Once the files have been copied to the off-site location, you have complete control over them just as if they were on your own computer. You can set up sharing, you can define permissions. You can even play or "stream" your mp3 songs by double-clicking on them, just as if they were on your local hard drive. But only realize that there is no syncing going on here between your files on their server and your files on your computer. You have to take care of that yourself. Which is exactly the way I want things to work for my purposes.

You can use an application called AjaXplorer on your iOS or Android devices to access your files. The iOS version costs $0.99. This means that because you have access to all the files you copied from your computer to the OLS-CS servers from within AjaXplorer, that if you have an app on your mobile device that can open a particular kind of file, you can not only read it, but work on it as well. Then it is up to that application as to how you get it back on your computer's hard drive, whether you have to email it to yourself or use some other method provided by the application.

Besides file storage, OLS-CS provides web site hosting complete with unlimited domains, email, and database access. They have a few projects in beta, as you can see from the screenshot.


So I used Fetch, the FTP program I've been using for years, to copy some of my files to OLS-CS today. Copying about 2 GB took about a half hour. The FTP copying got hung up when two files were found with backslashes ( / ) in the file name. Other times the backslash was automatically converted to a colon ( : ). That was a minor glitch.

When I tried to Go to the OLS-CS service and see my files by connecting to their servers as a Network Drive, I had to contact their support for help. The only method they provide is by filling out a web form. They then reply by email. The response was received within a half hour. It turns out that there was a typo in their instructions. The instructions say to enter https://dav/ols18.com/username. The correct entry shoul be https://dav.ols18.com/username, using a dot rather than a backslash.

It will take some time to copy everything to OLS-CS. But so far, everything is working and I think I have found a solution that will finally be what I've wanted all along.


Monday, July 9, 2012

Company Starts Gigabit-per-Second Broadband Project

Your connection with the internet may have everything to do with how fast your computer seems.  If you are doing most of your work through an internet connection, the time between the click on a button on a web page and the time you get a response can mean the difference between moving on with your life and total frustration.

A standard DSL connection to the home might range anywhere from 256 kilobits per second to 768 kilobits.  Cable modems can run ten times faster, between 2 megabits per second up to 5 megabits.  With FIOS, which uses a fiber optic cable connection, your speed may depend on how much you are shelling out for your connection.  But it can run twice as fast as cable modems, or from 10 megabits per second and higher.

Now a new Ohio start-up company, called Gigabit Squared, has raised $200 million to fund a gigabit-per-secod broadband project, one that would run 100 times faster than the typical fiber optic connection.  Gigabit Squared will work with the University Community Next Generation Innovation Project (Gig.U), a coalition of 30 universities focused on improved broadband.  They will select six communities in which to build the ultra-fast broadband networks, they said.

The new program has partnerships with several companies, including Corning, G4S, Juniper Networks, Alcatel Lucent, Ericson and Level 3, Mark Ansboury, the president of Gigabit Squared, said.  Funding comes from private sources.

The project will focus on creating a self-funding service that doesn't depend on government funding or subsidies, said Blair Levin, executive director of Gig.U and lead author of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's 2010 national broadband plan. "We're very excited about the notion that the private sector is stepping up to this, because it can build that sustainable model," he said.

The winning communities will be selected between November and the first quarter of 2013.  For more information, you can check out the Gigabit Squared web site here: http://gbps2.com .

Monday, July 2, 2012

GraphicConverter Upgrade to 64-bit and Scanning

If you use GraphicConverter, you have hopefully upgraded to the latest version.  I make it a practice to always get upgrades when they are announced.  Of course, if you don't have the latest hardware, that can sometimes cause problems.  That is what happened to me when I installed the latest version of GraphicConverter.

Version 8 of GraphicConverter came out around the end of May and was completely rewritten to take advantage of the latest 64-bit systems.  It requires Mac OS X 10.6.8 or higher.  You can learn more about the program here: http://www.lemkesoft.com .

I use GraphicConverter every day to manage the images of the items I sell on eBay.  I was using an Epson WorkForce 600 multi-function wireless printer/scanner/copier/fax machine, which was TWAIN compliant.  That meant that I could summon the scanner using the option in the GraphicConverter menus.  After scanning the item, the image would open right up in GraphicConverter where I could prepare it for use in my eBay auction.

After installing the GraphicConverter upgrade, my Epson scanner was not recognized by GraphicConverter.

After sending an email to Thorsten Lemke, the author of the software, he suggested that the Epson scanner driver was not 64-bit compatible.  Since I bought the Epson in 2009, I was sure he was probably right.  From my point of view, it appears he went right to work and came out with version 8.1 of the software on June 4.  This new version allowed you to choose to run the software in 32-bit mode.

To do this you shut down GraphicConverter and find the application (usually in your Applications folder).  Select the icon and do a "Get Info" either from the Finder menu or by pressing "Command-I". You will find a check-box in the "General" section of the "Get Info" window pane where you can choose to "Open in 32-bit mode".

Once I did that and opened GraphicConverter, I tried to summon the Epson scanner.  I could see that GraphicConverter now recognized that it was out there, and it would work normally one time.  But after letting it sit for awhile and trying to use it again, GraphicConverter hung.  I had to force quit GraphicConverter in order to continue with my work.  Mr. Lemke concluded that the problem was with the Epson driver.

When I used the Epson scanner software that came with the Workforce 600, the driver had always annoyed me because it would time out, forcing me to quit the Epson scanner software and restart it.  My guess is that when I was using the scanner from within GraphicConverter, the scanner driver timed out and when I tried to use it the second time, it brought GraphicConverter down.  I let Mr. Lemke know that I would just use the Epson scanner outside of the GraphicConverter program and save the resulting file.  I would then have to open the file in GraphicConverter as an additional step.

If you read my previous blog entries, you know that the Epson Workforce 600 died soon after all of this and I ended up getting a Hewlett-Packard Officejet Pro 8600 Plus, which isn't TWAIN compliant.  So it can't be used from within GraphicConverter either.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Scanning problem with new HP Officejet

I was busily scanning with my new HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus, and started to scan a multi-page document, loading it into the automatic document feeder.  It scanned the first two pages, but then the HP Scanning software reported an error:

The operation couldn’t be completed. (com.apple.ImageCaptureCore error -9931.)

So that was weird.  Since the first two pages of the five-page document had been scanned successfully, I thought I'd load the last three pages into the document feeder and try again.  One page scanned and was added to the queue, but then I got the same error and the last two pages weren't scanned.

Time for some research on the internet.  I found that indeed I was not the only one experiencing this problem.  And I found a really good posting on the HP Support Forum with some responses by an "HP Expert" that attempts to provide some solutions.  The last post dated February 20, 2012, however, indicated that the solutions proposed did not fix the problem.  (You can see the discussion here:  Scanning with HP OfficeJet Pro 860 Plus on Lion )

Like the person who was experiencing the problem, I too was using the document feeder to do a multi-page document and was using the "Black & White" as opposed to the "Text" mode.

The work-around appears to be to not use the HP scanning software, but rather Apple's Image Capture program.  The person who was experiencing the problem said he was also able to scan from within Apple's Preview program, but I tried it, and I crashed Preview.  Image Capture is the only program that works for me.

Of course, Apple is blaming Hewlett Packard and Hewlett Packard is blaming Apple.  In the meantime, I'll have to live with the work-around of using Image Capture.

September 11, 2012 - Update:

Since posting this blog, both Apple and Hewlett Packard have issued updates that appear to have resolved the issue of not being able to scan multi-page grey-scale documents.  The update from Apple came through in a Software Update.  The update from Hewlett Packard showed up on the printer's interface panel.  The walk-through was very simple to follow.  I have scanned several multi-page documents in grey-scale since, and have not encountered any more problems.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Forced to get a new printer

My Epson printer develops a problem
Ever since 2009 I have had the Epson Workforce 600 at my side. It is a multi-function printer / scanner / copier / fax machine that has provided me with very satisfactory output since I got it.

The other day I was preparing a letter to my sister which included printouts of some photographs. The quality was terrible! There were lighter and darker strips throughout the pictures. I went ahead and sent the letter anyway and then went about diagnosing the problem.

A plugged nozzle
The Epson printer has a "Nozzle Check" where it prints out a pattern of vertical and horizontal lines. If there are gaps in the lines, you know the nozzle is clogged and needs to be cleaned out. So you are next instructed to do a "Head Cleaning". After that, you print out the Nozzle Check patterns again. You are told that you may need to do this several times before you no longer see gaps in the lines. On the internet, I learned that you may need to do this 6 - 10 times. Of course, even if only one of the nozzles is clogged, you can't isolate the one nozzle. All of the nozzles go through the Head Cleaning procedure. The only nozzle that I was having a problem with was the one for the red (magenta) ink.

I ran through the procedure at least six times, with no change in results. So I started doing some more research on the internet to see what else I might be able to do. One thing you learn very quickly is that this procedure uses tons and tons of ink. I was wondering where all this ink was going to. I started getting this picture in my mind of a lake of ink in the bottom of the printer. It turns out there are sponges under the nozzles that are supposed to absorb the ink. So there were suggestions on the internet of trying to soak up some of the excess ink out of the sponges. There were also suggestions of trying to use alcohol or water in the sponges or trying to get some water or alcohol to the nozzle through the cone that pokes up into the ink cartridge. Nothing made any difference.

Finally, I read that all that ink being used to unplug the nozzle can actually plug the nozzle! Furthermore, I learned that if you leave the printer on all the time, the ink is kept fluid. This is so it will flow. But it also means that the ink will clog the nozzle more easily. I left my printer on 24 / 7 for the most part. I didn't know you were supposed to turn it off when not in use to allow the ink to dry up and to prevent the nozzles from getting clogged. I don't remember ever reading this in any of the instructions from Epson.

I give up
After learning all this, I decided I wasn't doing the printer any good by running the Nozzle Check and Head Cleaning over and over. So I finally called Epson. They had me go through the procedure one more time. The end result was, it was a hardware failure, my printer is a year out of warranty, so the only solution is to take it to a repair shop to get the print head replaced or buy a new printer. And with the prices of new printers being what they are, I imagined it would probably be cheaper to just get a new printer.

I was hoping that I would be able to use the Epson for awhile longer since I'm usually printing text on a daily basis, not pictures. But this was not to be.

After printing just one page, the Epson told me I was out of red ink! Furthermore, when the Epson runs out of ink in one of the cartridges, it won't allow you to do any more printing using the remaining cartridges. No. You have to replace the empty cartridge before you can do anything else. It also showed me that it was just about out of black ink as well.

Time for a new printer
Well, I wasn't going to buy more ink for a printer that wasn't working right. So all of a sudden, I didn't have the ability to shop around. I needed a replacement printer immediately. That meant that I had to get whatever was available in the Frederick, Maryland, area where I live. It also meant that I basically needed to go to Best Buy since that is the only store in this area that has a large selection of printers.

Once I got to Best Buy, my decision as to what to get was pretty much made for me. The one thing I really wished the Epson printer had was the ability to place documents larger than letter size on the glass scanning table. If I saw more than one printer with a legal size scanning glass in the local Best Buy, I don't remember what it was. The one I brought home was the Hewlett Packard Officejet Pro 8600 Plus . Besides the legal size scanning area, it has some other nice features including a larger size paper supply tray, duplexing capability, energy saving mode, and best of all, it supports AirPrint, Apple's technology for printing wirelessly from an iDevice.

HP Officejet Pro 8600 Plus
Getting the Officejet Pro 8600 Plus up and running was, as they say, a piece of cake. Even setting up the wireless connection was accomplished with ease.

The printer comes with a CD which installs the scanning software and other stuff. Here is where I ran into problems. It installed 6 of the 15 items, and then hung. So I spent the rest of the afternoon with HP Support figuring out how to work my way out of that problem. The bottom line was that they had to provide me updated software which I needed to download to replace the software that came on the CD. I had to completely shut down and reboot my computer before it would install.

I've been very satisfied with the Officejet so far. Of course I had to get used to using the new scanning software. Putting items on the scanning glass took some getting used to because you put your item exactly on the opposite corner from where it was on the Epson. AirPrint worked like a dream. One surprise is that the scanner is not TWAIN compliant! So other applications, like GraphicConverter, that are built to be used with TWAIN compliant scanners, won't work with the Officejet.

Even though the Officejet goes into idle mode when not used for a period of time, I'm still going to turn it off every night. I don't want to clog up a nozzle with ink like I apparently did with the Epson.