Drobo, Tech, Technology

Backup Strategy 2010

It’s the end of the year, and I’ve been cleaning up my digital clutter and revisiting my backup strategy. Since I last wrote about the subject, my storage requirements have grown. My 1.5TB Photos partition has turned into a 2TB partition, while my video projects span 1.5TB and 1TB drives.

Here’s what’s changed over the past two years.

  • SSD
  • Separate Data Partition
  • Time Machine
  • Dropbox
  • Hard Drive Consolidation


I purchased an OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD to function as my boot drive in my desktop and laptop computers. I’ve long known about the benefits of SSD, but was waiting for the exorbitant prices to come down before making the plunge. The prices are still high, but I figured the extra productivity I’d get would help offset things (famous last words of mine).

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Decluttering, Journal, Tech, Travel

Lightweight Travel to Maine

Rae and I are at SFO right now, awaiting our red-eye flight to Boston. We are headed to Maine for a Labor Day weekend wedding at which we will be the photographers. For the past several years, I have endeavored to lighten our luggage on all our our travels. While I didn’t think it was a problem at the time, I seriously overpacked when I was studying in France during college. I brought way too many clothes packed into two suitcases and a garment bag. In addition, I had a backpack and a laptop with me in the City of Lights.

Since then, I have flipped to the other side of the equation. I am constantly looking for better ways to pare down my luggage load. This trip is a little different in that we are bringing a lot of photophores gear to Maine. Still,we are not checking in any luggage on our flights. Some of my photo gear and laptop are stored in a LowePro CompuTrekker AW backpack. The tripod, camera bodies, some lenses, and accessories are in a Pelican 1510 hard case. Rae is carrying all of the clothing in a soft bag that’s backpack sized.

Why travel so light is a question I have been asked before. While I get to save a few dollars avoiding the airline check-in baggage fees, the main reason is that I enjoy having everything with me at all times. There’s a certain sense of freedom and liberty when you don’t have to lug and drag tons of stuff with you everywhere. Rae and I still remember all the steps we ascended and descended in the Paris metro stations; it’s not a good memory to have! From that point forward, both of us have followed a minimalist approach to travel. Furthermore, I enjoy the challenge of reducing what I bring to the bare essentials.

We are about to board the airplane, so I’ll be signing off now. We have some new gear to test on this trip, which I will describe in a future post on this site or on the Autumn Gem site. Stay tuned!

Rants, Tech

Verizon MiFi Disconnects Constantly in WiFi Mode

Update November 23, 2010: Updating the MiFi to firmware 7.3.11 appears to resolve these problems for me. The updater is currently available only for PCs, so Mac users will need to borrow a friend’s computer or use Fusion or Parallels to install the firmware onto their MiFi. Daniel Odio has additional details on his blog.

The following post was written using the MiFi with firmware 7.1.6. The problems listed below manifested itself for me and several other people. Read the update above on how to upgrade your MiFi to the latest firmware which has resolved the problem thus far for me.

I love the idea of the Verizon MiFi — which I bought several months ago to replace the mobile Internet solution I cobbled together a year ago — but it’s very annoying to use in practice.

I’m speaking of the constant stream of disconnects and reconnects whenever the device is being used as a 3G WiFi hotspot. This has been discussed on several threads and forums, but I have yet to see any permanent remedy to this problem.

Check out the diagram below:

Verizon MiFi Disconnect Problem

This happens on a regular basis with my Verizon MiFi 2200 running firmware 1.3.5. I have seen this problem on a MiFi 2200 running 1.2.5 firmware as well.

I’ve talked to several people who say they haven’t experienced this problem first-hand, but I suspect that it is happening; they just don’t realize it. Here are steps to verify and reproduce:

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Journal, Tech

Potential Seagate 1TB Hard Drive Failures

Weeks after I updated the firmware on my Seagate 1.5TB hard drives, I learn that the previous model, the 1TB 7200.11 Barracudas might also have a firmware bug in them.

Great. Just great.

I have several of these drives, most of them being used as my main drives or as backup/offsite backup drives. Four more drives will be used in a RAID 1 array by a client at an upcoming conference. Having any of them fail would not be a good thing to happen.

Here’s the brief explanation from Seagate:

Welcome, Seagate hard drive owners. A number of Seagate hard drives from the following families may fail when the host system is powered on:

Barracuda 7200.11
DiamondMax 22
Barracuda ES.2 SATA

Once a drive has failed, the data is inaccessible to users. Seagate has isolated this issue to a firmware bug affecting drives from these families manufactured through December 2008. Please use the following tools and instructions to determine if you have one of the affected products. If you do, we recommend that you update the firmware on the disk drive.

If you have one of the models listed above, Customers can expedite assistance by contacting Seagate via email. Please include the following disk drive information: model number, serial number and current firmware revision. We will respond, promptly, to your email request with appropriate instructions.

Or you can call Seagate Support at 1-800-SEAGATE. Please be prepared to give the serial number of your drive as the solution depends on knowing the exact serial number.

Since some of my drives are stored offsite, I’m going to have to grab them before sending Seagate the email. I hope that the firmware update doesn’t affect that data already stored on the drives.

For the past several years, I’ve purchased Seagate drives exclusively, due to hard drive crash experiences with other drive manufacturers such as Maxtor, IBM, and Quantum. Maybe it’s time to switch companies again. Readers, any recommendations?


Updating Seagate 1.5TB Drive Firmware

I recently bought three Seagate 1.5TB drives from NewEgg. Before I bought them, I had read the reports of drives freezing under certain operating systems and conditions, but I was crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t experience any such issues. Well, count me wrong on this one. This morning, I started a SuperDuper Smart Update backup on one of the 1.5TB drives before leaving the house. Four hours later when I returned home, I saw that SuperDuper had not progressed past the 20% mark in the progress bar. Was this an example of the freezing issue that other people were experiencing?

[smugmug url="http://photos.tow.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=6817162_EG5eZ&format=rss200" start="1" imagecount="100" thumbsize="Th" link="lightbox" captions="true" sort="true" window="false" smugmug="false" size="M"]

I pulled my drives out and noted the serial number and firmware version. Sure enough, the drives had the dreaded SD17 firmware on them. I called up Seagate Support, and a few hours later, they sent me a link to a website where I could download the SD1A firmware update. The process to do this on Mac OS X involved the following steps:

  1. Burn a CD-ROM that will boot up the Mac Pro.
  2. Insert only one drive at a time to update
  3. Boot up the computer holding down the Option key
  4. Following the on-screen instructions that resembled the old DOS computers from the 80s
  5. Power cycle the computer and repeat steps 1-4 for the remaining drives

Right now, I’m putting SuperDuper through its paces on PhotosOne. My fingers are crossed again that this will resolve any freezing issues with the drives!

Update December 21, 2008: So far, I’ve had no problems with the 1.5TB drives freezing
after nine days of daily use. It also looks like Seagate is shipping versions of the drive with a different firmware version.

Apple, ReadyNAS, Tech

Backup Strategy

2010-12-29: I’ve updated my backup strategy post here.

Adam with one of his first computers, an Apple ][

I’ve been making backups since I started using computers back in the early 1980s. Software at the time came on cassette tape and 5 1/4-inch floppy disks before transitioning to 3 1/2 inch floppies and CD-ROMs. When my love affair with the Mac began in 1989, I knew what it was like to have a cavernous storage system. I recall thinking to myself, “I’ll never run out of 40MB of hard drive space!” I still have old issues of MacUser magazine advertising 20MB hard drives for thousands of dollars. Now, you can get a hard drive with 50,000 times the storage capacity for a $100!

My current camera generates files that are 14MB in size. Two photos alone would almost fill up my poor Mac SE/30′s hard drive were it still spinning today. My current data set is topping 4TB these days, so my need to keep my data safe and sound is critical. I’ve personally experienced hard drive crashes before, and they are not fun to recover from without backups.

Over the years, I’ve gone through many types of backup strategies: multiple hard drives, NAS boxes, storage robots, online, and off-site storage. I’ve finally developed a comprehensive multi-pronged approach for keeping my data safe and available.

This article will be useful for those who have massive amounts of data to be backed up. If you just have a single hard drive to worry about, get a couple of external hard disks or a Time Capsule. Use Time Machine and be done with it. On the other hand, if you have to worry about backing up terabytes of data, read on!

  1. Goals
  2. Tools
  3. Methodology
  4. Future Plans

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iPhone, Journal, Newton, Software, Tech, Technology

Newtons and iPhones at Stanford

News that Stanford will be conducting a class on iPhone Development, taught by my friend Adam Nash brings back good memories of my time on the Farm.

I smiled when I read the press release from Stanford announcing the Stanford iApps Project.

A suite of five software applications developed by students is now being tested on campus. Two of them, for managing course registration and bills, are intended for students. The other three will allow access to Stanford’s searchable campus map, get team scores and schedules, and check listings in the university’s online directory, StanfordWho.

One of my first apps for the Apple Newton MessagePad was Stanford Map, a scrolling map of the university. I remember riding around campus and getting stopped by someone who wanted to get directions to a particular building. With my Newton in hand, I was able to show exactly where he needed to go. Bear in mind, this was 14 years ago!

Aperture, Apple, Journal, Tech

MacBook Pro, Aperture, and 30-inch Displays

I recognize that this blog has become very technical lately. Forgive me, ever since I was a kid in San Diego playing Ultima I through V on the home Apple ][ computer, I’ve always wanted to talk computer stuff!

Today, I tested the performance of the MacBook Pro hooked up to my Apple 30-inch Cinema Display. One reason why I chose the Pro over the regular MacBook or the Air was that it could drive a 30-inch display (2560×1600 resolution). The laptop features a Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT with 256MB of RAM; the newer Penryn-powered MacBook Pros have the same video chipset except with 512MB of video RAM. As you would expect, more video RAM typically equals better performance, especially with applications that make use of Mac OS X’s Core Image.

As I’ve known for two-years and counting, Aperture is one of the most GPU-intensive apps I’ve come across. My Quad G5′s beefy 7800GTX 512MB video card — an after-market upgrade that I purchased following my supreme disappointment with the stock 6600 card — has greatly increased the speed of Aperture’s editing adjustments. There’s only a slight delay when changing white balance, exposure, vibrancy and contrast during full-screen edits. Certain adjustments like levels and especially highlights and shadows are a little jerky, but the speed is acceptable.

Aperture Maximized

With Aperture maximized or in full-screen mode, the MacBook Pro starts to struggle when only a few adjustments (WB and Exposure) have been turned on. Don’t even think about using highlights and shadows at fullscreen! Reducing Aperture to its minimum window size results in excellent performance with every default adjustment turned on (WP, Exposure, Enhance, Levels, Highlights and Shadows, and Color).

Aperture at minumum window size

At fullscreen on a 30-inch display, four megapixel images are being displayed and manipulated in real-time by Core Image! A 24-inch Cinema Display would force the GPU to deal with a 2.25 megapixel image. At its minimum window size, Aperture only has to deal with images that are roughly 825×550, less than half a megapixel.

Having a big view of the image is great; that’s why I bought the 30-inch display in the first place. Performance is also very important, so you can be sure that the window size is getting reduced when I’m editing images on the MacBook Pro.

A great source for Aperture speed tips can be found on Steve Weller’s Bagelturf website. The list was originally compiled for Aperture 1.5, but most of them are still valid with Aperture 2.1.

Aperture, Apple, House, Photography, Tech

Electricity Usage Around the House

Electricity Usage 2008-03

During the three weeks we were in China, the computers in our home office were turned off. Our electricity bill for the month was $24 cheaper than the previous one. In fact, our electricity usage has been steadily going down after we switched to compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and became smarter about turning off unused appliances.

I suspect much of the power savings came from the fact that my PowerMac Quad G5 was getting a well-needed rest. I’ve been using this machine, along with an Apple 30-inch Cinema Display, for over two years. The MacBook Pro isn’t as fast as the Quad G5, so it’s not about to replace the PowerMac when I have photos to process or our film to edit. For mundane tasks like email and web browsing, however, it’s perfect and much more portable. In addition, the MBP has distinct advantage over the Quad G5 in the energy usage department.

I used a Kill-A-Watt power meter to measure the power usage of the Quad (with the 30-inch display) and MacBook Pro performing various tasks.

Note that my PowerMac Quad G5 has 6GB of RAM, two 750GB internal SATA drives, an Nvidia 7800GTX video card with 512MB of RAM, and a TeraCard PCI-E SATA card. An iSight camera is also connected to the PowerMac via FireWire. The MacBook Pro has 4GB of RAM and a stock 160GB hard drive.

Task Quad G5 / Cinema Display / Total MacBook Pro / No Battery
Boot (Peak) 387 / 80 / 467 Watts 40 / 40 Watts
Idle 276 / 80 / 356 Watts 23 / 23 Watts
Aperture Straighten / Highlight Tool 425 / 80 / 505 Watts 55 / 35 Watts
Aperture Export 425 /80 / 505 Watts 58 / 35 Watts

The Quad G5 is certainly powerful and power hungry! It certainly doesn’t help that I have even more peripherals attached to the Quad than I was measuring in my tests. In addition to the 30-inch Cinema Display, I have a FireWire iSight camera, a 17-inch Studio Display as a secondary monitor, and a WiebeTech RTX-400 4-bay external SATA box (it’s usually off unless I’m processing photos or editing video). Fortunately, everything is hooked up to a solid APC UPS, so I’m good (for a few minutes) in the event of a power outage.

Even if I plugged the 30-inch display into the MacBook Pro, the laptop would still be more energy efficient than the Quad alone. I read that the new Mac Pros are pretty good compared to the Quad G5, which appears to be the most energy inefficient Macintoshes ever produced.

We’ll never get to the electricity usage levels of Felix in Colorado. Our goal is to get our utilities costs under $100. Having a pool makes it difficult, as it uses tons of water and electricity. With a switch in the way we use our computers, however, I think we can achieve the goal!

Aperture, Apple, Tech

Aperture Benchmarks between Quad G5 and MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro (MBP) is my first Intel Macintosh. For the past couple of years, I’ve been using a Quad G5 as my primary machine and a first-generation PowerBook G4 12-inch for travel. Before I purchased the Quad G5 in 2005, my desktop was a Quicksilver PowerMac G4, purchased in 2001. Though the PowerMac G4 ran at the same speed (867MHz) as the PowerBook (purchased in 2003), it was faster overall due to a better graphics card, more RAM, and a faster hard disk.

It’s been two years, and here I am with a new MacBook Pro. Unfortunately, it’s not the new Penryn-powered MBP; I was on a plane to Hong Kong just days before the new ones were released. Once there, there was no way to take advantage of Apple’s 14-day return policy.

With a little time on my hand, I wanted to see if the MacBook Pro’s performance was up to par with the last of the great PowerPC Macintoshes. In addition, I’ve been curious for some time about about Aperture’s performance on Intel and Motorola PowerPC chips.

I conducted three tests using Aperture 2.0.1 and a sample library containing twenty RAW photos from an 8 megapixel Canon EOS 1D Mark II. Ten of the images had no adjustments, keywords, or metadata applied to them. The other ten images had keywords and metadata, in addition to white balance, exposure, enhance, and edge sharpening adjustments.

My Quad G5 features 6GB RAM, an Nvdia GeForce 7800GTX with 512MB of RAM, and a 750GB Seagate internal SATA hard drive. The MacBook Pro has 4GB RAM, an Nvdia GeForce 8600M GT with 256MB of RAM and a 160GB Hitachi internal SATA hard drive.

All tests were performed four times, and the results are averaged in the tables below:

Test 1: Export Ten Non-Adjusted Images to 16-bit TIFF

For the first test, I selected the ten images that had no adjustments and exported them to 16-bit TIFF files. Normally, this isn’t something I would do, but I wanted to see how fast Aperture could export without doing much processing.

Computer Total Time (seconds) Time Per Photo
Quad G5 25.30 2.53
MacBook Pro 28.80 2.88

Not bad. The MacBook Pro more than held up against the mighty Quad-core PowerMac in this test with the Quad coming in at 12% faster over the MBP. Since I don’t often export the files without performing any adjustments, I am more interested in the results from the next test.

Test 2: Export Ten Adjusted Images to 16-bit TIFF

Each image had its white balance, exposure, enhance, and edge sharpening adjusted. This is a better test, because the computer’s CPU has to perform additional calculations before exporting the image. If I had another video card for the Quad G5, I could see whether or not the GPU made a difference. In my Quad, I am using a reflashed Nvidia 7800GTX with 512MB of RAM. The original stock 6600GT card was such a dog that it’s no longer in my possession.

Computer Total Time (seconds) Time Per Photo
Quad G5 91.38 9.14
MacBook Pro 117.10 11.71

The Quad G5 is 22% faster than the MacBook Pro. When exporting hundreds or even thousands of photos, every percentage point counts. For a typical wedding shoot, I might be exporting 1000 images. The Quad G5 would take two and a half hours, whereas the MBP would take an additional forty five minutes.

Test 3: Export 1024 x 1024 JPEG

Exporting a web-sized or preview sized JPEG is a common task for me. Here I exported the ten adjusted images to fit within a 1024 x 1024 pixel box.

Computer Total Time (seconds) Time Per Photo
Quad G5 87.95 8.80
MacBook Pro 122.28 12.23

I was a little surprised by this score. While the Quad was faster at exporting an 8-bit JPEG over a 16-bit TIFF file, the MacBook Pro was slower. Exporting 1000 images, the Quad would take 2:26:00 while the MBP would take nearly an hour longer at 3:24:00. I wonder if the Quad was created the JPEG from its pre-generated preview image.

So, after two and a half years, the Quad G5 can still hold its own against a MacBook Pro. The gap might be a tiny bit closer, however, with the new Penryn-powered MacBook Pros. I’m curious to see how much faster the Dual 3.2GHz Quad-Core “Harpertown” MacPro is compared to the Quad. The MacPro would have to be twice as fast as the Quad before I would even consider upgrading. When I went from the Quicksilver to the Quad G5, I saw a 600% speed increase in RAW processing performance. Yes, the Quicksilver took about a minute to process one RAW file!

Another test I’ve been conducting is power per watt. With a Kill-A-Watt power meter, the MacBook Pro is well ahead of the Quad G5, which is one power-hungry computing beast!