The trick is to smoke the meat and not make the meat smoke

Can We All Just Back Up a Minute?

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This entry is not about food. It is some common sense advice that may save you from the problem that plagued me recently. I’ve been prevented from updating this site for well over a month.

If you are reading this you are probably interested in both food and computers. Many of you may be on Macs as my site is linked of several sites listing Mac based web sites created with iPhoto. This entry applies in general to anyone using a computer, particularly Mac users and even more so to people on laptops. The sad sight you see above is what my iPhoto library looked like one day about a month ago. Instead of 9,000 plus photos I had none. The story isn’t as sad as it could have been-I was actually lucky.

But let’s begin at the beginning. My laptop automatically updates my most important files to my .Mac site where this website is also hosted. I have long wanted to do something to back up the rest of my data. I knew I was taking a chance not backing up everything. I already had a data loss problem with this site and have been backing it up regularly since then. My dilemma was: What to do about my entire hard drive? After Mac OS 10 v10.5 Leopard appeared in the Fall I wanted to take advantage of the built in Time Machine software which automates backups. Plug in a USB or Firewire Drive and Time Machine asks your permission to use it for backups.

I was looking at several backup options and almost pulled the trigger on one at Christmastime. Then Apple announce a new device called a Time Capsule. It was an 802.11n wireless base station with a 500GB or 1TB hard drive built in. It also featured 3 switched 1000 base-T ethernet ports. It was intended to be a wired or wireless solution for use with the Time Machine software. If you are on a PC, there may be other solutions that make more sense and cost a bit less. If you are on a Mac desktop you could use a regular USB or Firewire drive, unless you also needed a 802.11n wireless base station. If you are a Mac laptop user, you are the true target audience for the Time Capsule hardware device. It allows you to back up your Mac automatically when ever you are within range, without having to hook up to a wired network or wired hard drive.

I was holding off buying a Time Capsule for economic reasons and sad to say: I waited too long. I was using my computer to run a lot of memory intensive apps on both Mac and Windows (using Parallels) and when I launched iPhoto it didn’t launch correctly. No window showed up with my library, just a menu bar. I relaunched and got the sad sight you see above: This time I had a library window, but it was empty. My photos were gone. I tried to use some utilities to recover it and called Apple support all with no luck. I had waited to long to pull the trigger.

Those of you using iPhoto ’08 should be aware that the iPhoto library shows as a single file in the Finder. It is what’s called a package. There are thousands of files bundled inside there. If you right click on the library file there is a menu entry called “Show Package Contents” which will reveal the files and folders hidden within. The bad news was the file called “Library.XML that acts like a table of contents or index for my library had gone bad. It may have been a simple as one “0” being written as a “1” somewhere. So I lost all of my library organization, albums, slide shows and calendars. The good news was my photos were still intact, although I was going to have to reimport and reorganize all of them again.

Two days after my iPhoto hiccup, I bought a Time Capsule and set up Time Machine to backup to it. It really couldn’t have been simpler. Get it on the network, give it a network name and tell Time Machine to use it to backup. The first backup of my laptop was going to be 120GB so per the recommendations in the manual I used a wired gig ethernet connection. Even with 802.11n’s speed, that first one would take over a day. About the only other thing you need to configure in Time Machine is if you want it to specifically skip backing up certain files.Time Machine backs up the files that have changed every hour. When the hard drive fills up the older backups begin to be deleted. The interface for restoring the files is visually stunning and couldn’t be easier to use. This whole experience is quintessential Apple: take something that is complex and simplify it so everyone can use it. If I had been using Time Machine on the day of my iPhoto mishap I could have restored the library in short order


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When you restore from a Time Machine backup you are presented with a visual interface showing the state of your files and photos or in this case my iPhoto library at one hour intervals in time. Visually appealing and easy to use.

I knew I should be doing a regular backup. I have no excuse-none, zip zero, zilch. I did not loose any of my photos thank goodness. It could have been far far worse. So my having to reimport and categorize 9,000 plus photos is perhaps my penance for not backing up. No matter what computer you are using it WILL loose data at one time or another. So please don’t let what happened to me, happen to you. Buy a device and start backing up TODAY. Don’t wait another day like I did. If I had a Time Capsule I would have had zero data loss. If you have a Mac laptop a Time Capsule is an excellent choice. My luck ran out-yours doesn’t have to. Just don’t wait to do something about backup. Start backing up critical data today!!!! Yes you-you are not immune.


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