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#722: Backup of Your Backup, Eject When Your Computer Won't Boot, Humidity vs. MacBook Pro


Happy Tuesday,

We’re in the midst of what might be the hottest weather we see this year. With temperatures pushing 100 degrees and dewpoints in the upper seventies, the National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for today. We are fortunate that our headquarters is only a stone’s throw from the Mad River, and I’m sure many of us will be swimming around lunch time.

It was a great Independence Day long weekend. The Prickly Mountain bunch came up with a show-stopping float for the Warren parade. Don wrote in his daily report to the company,

“The Prickly Mountain Float this year was spectacular—it was a gigantic whale (about 45 feet) with a huge opening mouth and an articulated tail. We had an oil derrick with a BP exec hugging it leading the whale by 50 yards or so. Every now and then we would put on the show—the whale’s huge mouth would open and we would swallow the oil derrick. Once inside the whale (also known as a sauna—it was so hot) we quickly wrapped “ocean” around it, changed the oil derrick to a wind turbine, and spit it out complete with a Poseidon—all to the cheers of the crowd. The whale had a blow hole and Jim Sanford spent the entire time with an Indian handpump squirting water at the crowd. We made him spray us down, too, since it was so hot.”

Technicians are working through a batch of early 2008 white MacBooks, cleaning them and testing them so we can be confident to call them “Small Dog Refurbished.” They are covered by AppleCare and Small Dog warranties until May of next year, and are a truly excellent value.

As always, thanks for reading, and stay in touch.


  Backup of Your Backup  

We often write about the importance of having a current backup. Hard drive failure and software corruption are common in the computer world no matter what platform you’re using. One of my clients recently complained to me that both her computer’s internal hard drive and her external Time Machine backup drive failed. She brought everything to an Apple Store and they asked her if she had a backup of her backup. She was outraged and believed that was a ridiculous question.

While it’s rare for both an internal drive and the backup drive to fail at the same time it’s not unheard of. Having a backup of one’s backup is actually a really smart idea. Many people make second copies of their backups manually using cloning applications like SuperDuper! or Carbon Copy Cloner. Others use software or hardware mirrored RAIDs to continually back up data to multiple drives at once.

One of the things I really love about my Time Capsule is that it has an option built right into the AirPort Utility software to create its own redundant backup (note, it is not a RAID). This weekend I took advantage of the Time Capsule’s “Archive” feature. Between the unusually high heat in Vermont this week and the fact that my 1TB Time Capsule only has 50GBs left (eek!), I thought it was definitely time to make myself a backup of my backup.

Before I left work on Friday, I bought myself a new LaCie 1TB Grand Hard Disk Drive. When I got home, I immediately formatted the drive and hooked it up to my Time Capsule via USB. I popped open ‘AirPort Utility’ (Applications/Utilities), went to ‘Disks’ and hit the ‘Archive’ button. It asked if I’d like to make an Archive on the new LaCie I had plugged into it, I confirmed and off it went!

For anyone who’s curious, it took more than 24 hours for the entire 1TB of data to transfer over USB 2.0. Once it was complete, I honestly felt a bit more comfortable. I ejected the external hard drive, boxed it back up and now it’s safely hidden away in my basement. I have clients who take their archives off-site and/or to a firesafe box; those are both great ideas.

The next most common question is, “How often should I make an archive of my backup?” I plan to make an archive about once a month, unless I’m working on a particularly large project in which case I would archive more often. Most businesses archive once every 1-2 weeks and some home users go as long as three months before archiving. It’s really a matter of personal preference. If most of your life is online and you don’t save much data locally you would probably be OK waiting a month or two between archives. If you create or store many new documents, pictures, music or movies on your internal hard drive then you might want to archive more often. Basically, think of it in a worst-case scenario; if you did find out that both your internal hard drive and primary backup failed, how old a backup would you be comfortable reverting to?

Oh, and for those of you now honestly (or snarkily) wondering if you should have a backup of your backup’s backup? Well, I would never say not to. ;)

  How to Eject A Disk When Your Computer Won't Boot  

If you’ve ever called Small Dog or Apple for technical support because your Mac wouldn’t boot, odds are it was suggested that you attempt a reinstallation of your operating system from the disks that came with your computer. The problem here is that if the reinstallation fails for whatever reason, there is no apparent way to eject the disk if the computer doesn’t start up.

A huge percentage of computers entering our service facilities have disks “stuck” in the drive when they’re checked in. To eject a disk, simply press and hold your mouse or trackpad button immediately after powering on your machine. Once the disk ejects, you can let go, and press and hold the power button for about ten seconds to force your computer to turn off.

Alas, this tip works only with a wired mouse. No bluetooth or similar wireless mouse will work unfortunately. If you have a wired keyboard but wireless mouse, there is another way: use the boot manager.

The boot manager is a screen summoned by pressing and hold the Option key on your keyboard immediately after pressing the power button. After a few moments, a screen will come up showing you the available startup disks. Once this screen appears, wait about ten seconds and then press the eject key on your keyboard to eject the disk.

Your mileage may vary on this one. Note that a drive that makes the usual ejecting noises but fails to eject a disk will require removal of the drive itself to save the disk. Failure to eject and inability to eject are two completely separate issues!

  Tip of the Week: Humidity vs. MacBook Pro  

Many of us have experienced the sinking feeling as we watch our computers fall to the ground, or a screen flicker and go dark after a small liquid spill. It’s just good common sense to keep liquids away from your computer.

This week’s hint is in honor of the heat wave, and is really a two-part tip. Remember that while your computer is in an air conditioned building or car, and then taken outside to the hot, humid air, condensation will form both on the outside and inside of the computer. This holds true for any electronic device, and is probably the most common inadvertent warranty-voiding event we see in our shops. The best way to avoid this is to put your device into a sleeve or case that’s been in the cold environment, and leave it in the case until the temperature equalizes.

The second thing about heat and humidity is that we tend to crave and consume lots of cold liquids. Right now I have a glass bottle of ice water sitting in a pool of condensation. The floor in my office isn’t perfectly level, so this liquid began migrating towards my MacBook Pro. Had I not noticed, odds are that liquid would’ve invaded the computer through the seam between the bottom and top cases.

Common sense here, as with all things in life, could save you many thousands of dollars.

  How to Pick the Right Mac for School  

Picking the perfect Mac to accompany a collegiate adventure may seem like an arduous task to some. At a glance, the multitudinous array of custom configurations and pricing tiers may leave you saying “giga-what!?”

What is important to consider when selecting a machine and the accessories to go along with it is, the classic balance between price and performance. Ideally, the perfect Mac is one that will last the course of a college career and with only the features one needs.

It is easy to overbuy based on what you might think you need, when in actuality you could be saving hundreds to better spend on bee….err…textbooks! While requirements can certainly vary from school to school and program to program, there is thankfully some overlap in terms of what to look for.

Based on my days as a young lad back at university, in addition to the machines outlined by a few leading schools, I’ve complied a list to aid in the task of picking the perfect Mac for college. See the entire list here. Happy shopping!

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