But they’re so cute!

I’ve been following the recent development of the new “Netbook” laptop category. It was started with ASUS and their EeePC but there have been many other entries by Dell, Acer, and others. Two of my colleagues at work got the Acer and like them and my brief look at a selection at Circuit City has sold me on the concept. A modestly-powered system (1.6 GHz CPU and 512M to 1G RAM) with a small screen (7-10″) but in a small and affordable package makes a very attractive option for things like web browsing and email.

I am quite hopeful Apple releases one at Macworld Expo next week, but I’m not holding my breath. While I think they would clean up with a $400-500 “MacBook Mini” I can’t help but think they are scared of what that might do to their bottom line.

I learned all about Time (Machine) so you don’t have to

I’ve been learning a lot about the Time Machine feature of Apple’s OS X 10.5 (Leopard) and wanted to take the time to share my experience. In a nutshell, Time Machine watches the files that get modified on your system and copies them to a secondary hard drive or network volume so that you have automatic backups available for anything that was deleted or modified.

It is a very nice user experience and it takes a lot of the work out of making backups. Of course, by taking work out Apple is really just making decisions for the majority of users and for most users, that decision is quite acceptable. I’m not most users. Fortunately, Apple directly or indirectly provides methods for changing the behavior of much of the OS and Time Machine is no exception. Here are many of the things that I’ve gathered over the last few months that might benefit you if you want to get more out of your experience.


I won’t go into too much detail as I’m going to presume you’ve already used Time Machine and are familiar with how it works. Generally, it performs a backup of your system every hour to an external drive. It is efficient in that only the modified files are copied. Hourly copies are kept for for 24 hours, daily copies for a month, and weekly copies until the destination drive fills up. You are free to put other data on that Time Machine disk, but it will eventually consume all available space.

Space is pretty efficiently used in that a file is copied only if it has changed but ineffecient in that a small change to a large file results in the entire file being backed up again. This can be a problem if the file really is big and changes frequently. This is the case with the virtual hard disk used for a virtual machine under VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop.

Backing-up to a network volume

Any self-respecting geek has more than one computer in his or her home. Often times, you are using a laptop and have a dedicated computer with more storage sitting by your TV or in the den, closet, or garage. Unfortunately, while Time Machine can back up to a network volume, by default it only supports a specially presented volume served via Apple’s network filling protocol (AFP) from Leopard Server. You can back up to other choices (e.g., Windows or Linux) via Microsoft’s filing protocol (CIFS). To do this, you first need to have a native Apple file system to copy the data to.

Creating a sparseimage

OS X has supported disk images since the beginning but has recently added a format called sparseimage that starts small but grows as more data is added to it. To use a network volume, you first need to create the image that your machine will be storing the actual data in. Type the following on a mac creating the disk on a local hard drive first:

hdiutil create -library SPUD -size $SIZESPEC -fs HFS+J -type SPARSEBUNDLE \
-tgtimagekey sparse-band-size=262144 -volname "Backup of $MACHINENAME" \

Here are explanations on the options that you’ll want to change:

$SIZESPEC – the size of the virtual disk when filled. A good choice is twice the size of what you’re backing up.

$MACHINENAME – The name of your machine

$MAC – The network address of the primary network interface without separators (e.g., aabbccddeeff0011). You can get this from System Profiler or Network Utility.

For education purposes, here is some explanation of some of the other items:

-fs HFS+J – make the filesystem HFS+ with Journaling (the default OS X filesystem)

sparse-band-size – the size of the ‘chunks’ that make up the sparseimage (they aren’t just one single file). Normally, the images are made in 8M chunks but those perform quite poorly over the network. The value provided above represents 128M chunks (2 * 128 * 1024 512-Byte-Blocks = 262144 = 128MB) which is a good size for a hard disk backup.

Copying the image to to the network volume is as simple as dragging the sparseimage file via the Finder or do it in the terminal:

cp -r $MACHINENAME_$MAC.sparsebundle /Volumes/path/to/destination

The last part is to tell the system to allow any network volume as a destination and not just AFP:

defaults write com.apple.systempreferences TMShowUnsupportedNetworkVolumes 1

Using just part of a drive

For some reasons you’ll see below, I wanted to limit the usage of the destination drive local to the system. Normally, Time Machine will use all the space of an external drive chosen as the destination. If you are storing other information on it, that can become a problem. The solution is to convert the physical Time Machine destination volume into a disk image.

The first step is to create a disk image with the same information above. Next, mount the newly created disk image:

hdiutil mount /path/to/created/imagefile

You can also mount it simply by double-clicking on the disk image file. You’ll then copy the contents of the current Time Machine volume to the created disk image. Note, it is best to ensure Time Machine is disabled as you don’t want anything changing as you are copying it:

sudo asr restore --source /Volumes/srcvol --target /Volumes/Backup\ of\ $MACHINENAME

asr is Apple’s System Restore utility and it performs copy between volumes but ensures that everything is copied properly. You need the sudo portion to have the command be able to access every file which may not be the case if run just as yourself.

Of course, this copy can take some time depending on the speed of your system but mostly due to the size of the data being copied.

Once completed, you can unmount the disk image and configure Time Machine to use the disk that the disk image is stored on. Time Machine is smart enough to use the image if it sees it (the file has to be at the top-level of the destination hard drive).

Trigger a Time Machine backup from the command-line

If you ever want to trigger a Time Machine backup on a system from the command-line, perhaps on a remote system via ssh, issue the following command:

/System/Library/CoreServices/backupd.bundle/Contents/Resources/backupd-helper -auto

Exclude an individual file from being backed up

You can exclude files from being backed up (like previously mentioned virtual disks) using the GUI in the Time Machine preferences (under Options), but it can also be done using the extended attributes in the command-line:

xattr -w com.apple.metadata com_apple_backup_excludeItem /path/to/file/to/exclude

Similarly, you can see if a file is being excluded but listing the extended attributes:

xattr -l /path/to/file/in/question

Hide the Time Machine disk in the Finder

If you aren’t getting all fancy and writting to a disk image, you may want to hide the destiation disk. You can do that just by making the volume invisible:

SetFile -a V /path/to/Time/Machine/Volume


I hope this has been helpful to you and that with the information are able to make a useful tool even more useful. To give credit where credit is due, I’ve included below the links to where much of the information was originally found.


20090527 I’ve revised the sparse-band-size value from 1G to 128M which is the largest band currently support in 10.5.7. Files with larger band files cannot be mounted in 10.5.7. Once I determine the correct procedure for converting an old image, I’ll post a new article. In the meantime, you can get more information here.


10.5: Set up Time Machine on a NAS in three easy steps

10.5: Improve networked Time Machine performance

Man page for hdiutil

Man page for asr

Exclude Items From Time Machine Backup With Contextual Menu

Time Machine Exposed!

Hide Time Machine’s icon in the Finder

Radio is dead to me

I listened to morning radio since high school. In fact, I listened to Jeff & Jer since they first started at B-100 in 1988 and followed them through their many station jumps.

As I got more into listening to podcasts, I would mostly have them on when I was at work. With work getting quite busy and stressful this past January, I realized that I was more productive when I turned them off as I felt I had this weird obligation to wait until a commercial break to do something not at my desk (I didn’t want to miss anything, you know). So, around February, I unceremoniously turned the radio off and haven’t turned it back on since.

Another reason radio is dead is my iPhone. Of course, I’ve had an iPod for years and have listened to my own music, podcasts, and Audible books. Having all of that content with me at all times on my phone is quite liberating. I can listen to whatever I want whenever I want.

With the release of the 2.0 software for iPhone and the support for 3rd party software, one of the applications I’ve been really enjoying is Pandora. The service (which is also available in a browser at their website) let’s you create a “radio station” based on a song or artist you identify. From then on songs are played that are similar as determined by the Music Genome Project. For each track that plays, you can give it a thumbs up if you think it fits and a thumbs down if you think it doesn’t. It is really cool to hit play, and listen to music you like and new music that you are likely to like all without commercial breaks, announcers or anything else that might get in the way.

One of the last benefits of radio for me is the opportunity to hear new music and to identify the songs that catch your ear. While Pandora identifies the songs you are listening to Shazam does one better for the music you hear on the radio, TV, movies, clubs, or elevator. It will take a 12 second sample of whatever is playing and using a really cool fingerprinting technology, identify the song, artist, and album. The results can be saved and it provides links to the iTunes music store for purchase and also YouTube links for similar content like music videos. You have to see it work to believe it.

For me, I don’t think radio is a big deal anymore. I know I don’t miss it.

I know the question you’re asking

If you’re even half-way plugged into things, you’ve most likely heard that Apple announced the next version of their iPhone. Now called the iPhone 3G, they have revised it in some pretty decent ways. They’ve made it a full “3G” phone using AT&T’s HSDPA for downloading email and web pages at about twice the speed as the original EDGE. They’ve also added GPS support. The one thing they’ve taken away is $200. It now costs $199 in exchange for a two year service contact commitment.

Am I going to get one? Not likely. Surfing at twice the speed is nice, but considering the higher-speed data plan is $10 more per month ($40 versus the current $30) I don’t see enough value in the upgrade.

There is the new 2.0 upgrade of the OS which is standard on the 3G but will also be made available for free to existing phones. They have focused quite a bit on main aspects of the OS which are enterprise support and 3rd party application support. I’m interested in that and will have it with the phone I have now when the upgrade is released next month. They haven’t listed completely what is included with the upgrade, but here are the things I either know they aren’t doing or aren’t sure:

  • Video support for the camera
  • Wireless podcast downloads
  • Wireless syncing (iTunes)
  • Document storage (I want to store and read PDFs)
  • Flash support (kinda don’t care)
  • Keychain support (partially resolved with the excellent 1Password)

I’m just glad that Omni Group has committed to producing an iPhone version of OmniFocus. That I will buy.

It’s too bad

First, apologies for not blogging lately. Yes, I’ve been busy, but not so much not to be able to write. Sorry.

I’m in San Francisco this week attending Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference on behalf of my employer. They’ve done a good job with providing an IT track and this year is no different. The one thing that is different is the extensive iPhone track for all the developers and IT shops looking into producing applications for the handheld. Having seen some of the applications, there is no question that the iPhone (and iPod Touch) is a full computer.

The overlap of the two tracks pertains to the enterprise support that is forthcoming in the 2.0 release of the OS X Touch OS (what runs on the devices). Apple will be providing tools for establishing policies for an organization’s handhelds and performing security functions like remote kill (for a lost device). We don’t have any specific plans for iPhones at work, but I did want to understand how things work in case it comes up.

Unfortunately, I attended a session yesterday that pretty much ruled out iPhones for us. As an attendee I am under NDA and as such can’t go into any details, but suffice it to say there are some fundamental deficiencies in the initial enterprise support that prevents me from recommending it to my managers. Since we didn’t have any plans, nobody is going to really care. Most likely they’ll chalk it up as yet another way Apple is showing how they just don’t get enterprise customers.

I suppose it’s all for good as I wouldn’t be keen on carrying two phones.

Let the experimentation begin

After about 8 months and several notarized letters, I finally received the settlement on the insurance claim for my pond-enabled iPhone. $249 which is the cost of getting it repaired. I figured that would be the amount and wasn’t holding much hope for a complete reimbursement of purchase cost. I had long replaced the phone and now that it’s all settled, I’m free to pursue my options.

Repairing the phone is kinda silly as I would be lucky to get $250 selling it. Becky doesn’t want it and there’s no way I’m letting the kids have it. That leaves me with the “parts” option. There are a few websites that sell parts for iPods and iPhones can since the outside is pristine, I could probably get at least a little bit for it.

Since you can’t kill a dead patient, I will be cutting into the Davey Jones phone and see if I can restore more (full?) functioning. Remember, it did work as a shuffle for a while (it’s been completely dead for the last 2-3 months) so there’s a chance I can have some luck if I do a little refurbishment.

I’ll let you know the status of the cadaver in a follow-up.

Surfin’ on the go

I’ve heard reports that iPhone web surfing traffic is orders of magnitude more than other smartphones. Given that it’s not a crippled browser like on my previous Sony Ericsson or Blackberry it’s not surprising.

Checking the usage counters on my (second) iPhone, I’ve used 466M down and 74M up via the EDGE network since I got it 6 months ago. It doesn’t monitor WiFi traffic. While it does check mail, it only gets headers unless I pull up a message so most of that is web traffic. Nothing spectacular, but I find it pretty interesting.

Just waiting until tomorrow

As you well know, I’m an iPhone owner and fan. While it has been the best phone I’ve ever owned, it isn’t perfect. I’m writing this as I sit waiting for a meeting that isn’t going to happen (I got stood up), I decided to write this little post on my iPhone* about my thoughts on tomorrow’s iPhone SDK announcement by Apple. There are many questions about what will and will not be possible for 3rd party developers, but I’ll go ahead and make my predictions:

  1. Delivery will be done only by the iTunes music store
  2. Software will be signed by Apple making small developers mad (and many users)
  3. Signed apps will be approved by Apple but they’ll claim they will be fully supportive (time will tell)
  4. There will be options for free apps
  5. There will be some apps available immediately
  6. There will be a Blackberry-like service to push corporate email to iPhones
  7. There will be a lightweight iWork suite announced
  8. There will be Bluetooth keyboard support
  9. Developers will have more access to the hardware than feared but less than hoped
  10. I’ll go out on a limb that they’ll also announce a small tablet device with the touch interface but that may be further out (6 months)
  11. I’ll be buying around $20-30 of software that is immediately available

I admit I’m taking the shotgun approach. My money is on 1-6. We’ll see what the future holds for us.

* The draft was on the iPhone, but links and final was done on my desktop

I wonder what Apple is up to?

When I was up at Macworld two weeks ago I got to see in person many of the announcements that were made during Steve Jobs’ keynote (MacBook Air, iTune Movie Rentals, Time Capsule , etc.). While the MacBook Air is quite sexy, the most interesting thing I thought while strolling through the Apple booth was how much they were pushing the newly updated Apple TV.

If you haven’t heard of it, it was originally announced last year and is basically an iPod that you keep attached to your TV. You navigate the on-screen display with a small remote using an interface similar to Front Row on OS X. I was wholly unimpressed with it as originally announced as it required you to sync content to its 40G drive from another computer on the network. This year, they have improved the software to where you can now rent movies or purchase music or movies from the device itself (before purchases had to be made on your computer and synced to the device).

While Apple isn’t the first to offer movie rentals via digital delivery, they are arguably the highest profile and stand the best chance on making it work (much like they were with digital music purchases with the iTunes Music Store). My question is, what is Apple up to? Are they trying to be the premiere source for digital delivery of media? I suppose so, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense. Maybe they are going to truly transition to the classic razor and razor-blade business model and try and get as much (or more) revenue from each Mac or iPod purchase in the services they offer. It appears the the new price-drop of the Apple TV is not due to lower costs which supports the theory.

I personally have two gripes about the rentals. First, the HD versions of movies are $1 more (generally being referred to as a “guy tax”) and can only be purchased on an Apple TV. That means that my Mac Mini which I have set up as a media center for my TV can only do standard definition. My other complaint, which is more of a deal breaker, is that you have 30 days to begin watching any movie you rented (which is decent), but only 24 hours to finish watching it when you start. That’s a problem. When Becky and I watch a movie, we often don’t finish it in one sitting (especially during the week). With the current model, when we go back to finish it the next night, it’ll be expired and already removed from the system. Lame. My guess it’s a short-sighted requirement from the studios rather than a “feature” from Apple, but either way, it’ll have to change before I get on board.

I’m tired and can’t think of anything

I’ve been trying to keep up on blogging and haven’t written anything in a bit. At the moment, I’m sitting in my room at the Cupertino Inn as I’m at Apple participating in three day training for Xsan. It’s the second of such trips I’ve done in two weeks. Sure, I kinda digg traveling and part of me doesn’t mind being stuck in a hotel room as I can get a reasonable amount of work and surfing done, but really, I’d rather be home with my family.

I did just hear about www.5ives.com by Merlin Mann. I just added it to my reader. Some of them are pretty funny.

I’m here again tomorrow. I’ll try to come up with something more interesting.