Thursday, October 13, 2011

The value of preparation

I've been running the Mac OS 10.7 Lion since release as my main OS. And I've been working with all the ensuing developer betas as well. I adopted the encrypted file system early in production, but when I migrated to a bigger SSD a few weeks ago I had to disable that to efficiently migrate over.

Well, yesterday I tried to re-enable it. Didn't go so well. The encryption process failed and left me with a not-quite-usable hard drive, and Disk Utility could have nothing to do with it. Were I a client of mine, I might well be out of luck at that point. But because I actually do the things I tell clients they should do, I had options. Here's how I was prepared for it, and what I did to fix it:

- First, I had a second SSD (a small one) installed in my laptop. I took out the Superdrive to install it last winter. On that SSD I keep a full install of the latest OS, in vanilla form. I also keep copies of Carbon Copy Cloner and Drive Genius on it. The main use for the drive is archiving installer files, though, and storing all my Parallels VMs.

- I also had a fairly current Time Machine backup from Friday if needed. That would have shut me out on some recent photo updates, though, so it wasn't my best option.

- I use Backblaze for offsite backup, and that was current if I needed it (photo recovery)

- And finally all my recent document changes were mirrored on Dropbox.

So at that point I had a plan to go forward as needed. First, I rebooted to Lion's Recovery Partition and tried to fix from there. No luck. Next step was to reboot from the second drive (at home, you could use a 16GB or 32GB flash stick much the same way as I use my SSD, but it'd be slower), and try Drive Genius. I couldn't fix the drive, but I could see it and mount it (along with the Finder warnings that it's not fixable, back up and erase ASAP). Now I was out of the weeds. I was out of the house (at a meeting) when this started happening, so I put the Mac to sleep and went home.

Once I put the Mac back on the desk at home, I connected my FW800 drive that I use for Time Machine backups. It's a 2TB drive, with plenty of space for additional backups. I used Carbon Copy Cloner to copy everything from the mounted drive to the external (this is still booted from my secondary SSD, by the way). Then I erased the drive, and re-cloned back to the now fixed volume.

After that was completed (took about 2 hours each way for the 260GB of data - I did the initial clone right when I got home and started the clone back before bed), I verified that the drive would now boot and changed the startup disk back to it.

Sure enough, it worked. Back to normal. I had to re-connect Dropbox and also change Backblaze's settings to accommodate the new volume ID, but that's it. Now that this was done, I went and updated my Time Machine backup to be 100% current. Usually I do it about twice per week, strictly manual.

Had the cloning effort failed (If I couldn't get the disk to mount), I simply would have restored from my Time Machine backup from last Friday, then remirrored Dropbox and restored my iPhoto pictures from Backblaze. That simply would have been more complicated but I could have done it fine.

The lesson for all of you: Even when you are a tech professional like me, things go wrong. When they do, don't panic, have a plan, have fallback methods ready just in case, and always make sure you have backup alternatives that you are using.

Under a month of campaigning to go!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

iPhone 4S - the "S" is for Steady as She Goes

So once again, Apple's done an incremental update instead of a radical one. Millions of dollars have been lost - mainly by case makers who got faked out on the design. Why did Apple just release an incremental upgrade to last year's iPhone? Well, that depends on your perspective:


  • First of all, it's not really incremental. The outer shell is basically identical. That's it. Oh yeah, the screen as well. Battery life is a little better, performance matches that of the iPad 2 (2+ tines the speed of the iPhone 4), it's got a new radio and improved antenna system (the death of "you're holding it wrong") the imaging system is all new and way better, and I'll give good odds that when it's torn down you'll find more than 512MB of RAM in it. This is a far bigger update than the update from the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 3GS was.
  • That said, the iPhone 4 has been an enormous success, and is still pretty much a state-of-the-art form factor. And it's still the best-selling smartphone on Earth. Why mess with it too much?
  • The biggest thing in the iPhone 4S is Siri. Plain and simple. Between Siri and the Nuance dictation system that has been built into iOS 5, the iPhone 4S has the muscle to handle voice processing and the integration only Apple can really do (as the only company besides RIM that builds the phone and the OS both). Siri is going to be huge. It's Jetsons stuff.
There will, of course, be an iPhone 5 at some point. And it'll likely have a redesign to go with it. But that will come when LTE chipsets work well enough (and carrier deployments are far enough along) to justify putting them into a mainstream phone. There isn't a company right now betting everything on an LTE phone. It's not mature enough.

In the end, Apple doesn't sell you speeds and feeds. They don't say a lot about RAM or processors or gigahertz. They say as little as possible about the guts of their devices. What Apple focuses on is the experience, the underlying glue that ties a computer to the user. And it's not a language that analysts speak well - which is why the iPhone 4S is so underwhelming to them.

The lines at every Apple Store next Friday will say otherwise. Consumers get it.

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