Tag Archives: Mac OS

Icon soup

So I was trying to avoid thinking about how badly the Colts were playing tonight against San Diego by dinking around with Leopard some more. Specifically, I was trying to make a stack that contained aliases for my most commonly-used math-related applications: TeXShop, LaTeXiT, Excel, Sketchpad, and Maple. This way I could take five icons off the dock and replace them with a single stack that would fan out in that cool way Leopard does it.  So I made aliases for all five apps,  made a new folder, moved the aliases into the folder, and put it on the right side of the dock. The good news is that it works like it’s supposed to. The bad news is that the icon for the stack looks like:

icon.jpg

It’s all five of the individual icons, layered on top of each other in an indistinct mess.

Is this happening because the icons are transparent? Anybody know how to make this go away, so that only one icon at a time appears?

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Riding in the Time Machine

tm.jpgAs a sort of Part II of this post about my experiences with Leopard, I wanted to go into detail about Time Machine, Leopard’s always-on backup utility. When I first heard about this app coming in Leopard, I wasn’t excited; how excited can you possibly get about a disk backup utility? But this ended up being one of the Leopard features I looked forward to having the most, because it meant I could finally cross off that “Make backup of hard drive” task that had been sitting in my OmniFocus task list for… you don’t want to know how long.

It turns out that Time Machine does a decent job of what it is supposed to do — but there are some downsides and some things that aren’t working for me as advertised.

My plan was to put Time Machine to work using this 500 GB Iomega USB hard drive that I purchased over the summer specifically for archiving video, class files from the past decade, and other stuff. Upon plugging the drive in, Time Machine asked if I wanted to use it as my Time Machine backup drive. I said yes, and immediately the backing up began. But a few minutes into the process, the backup abruptly stopped and gave me a generic failure message. This continued to happen after trying again a couple more times.

A little Googling later, I had found the problem — my hard drive was formatted using a generic FAT32 filesystem, and Time Machine only works with Mac OS filesystems. I reformatted the hard drive using Disk Utility, using the Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) filesystem, and plugged the drive back in — and Time Machine proceeded without a hitch. I had thought FAT32 was something like a generic filesystem, but Time Machine is picky about such things. So if you’re having trouble getting Time Machine to even get off the ground, try reformatting using a specifically Mac OS filesystem.

When the external drive is plugged in, Time Machine makes a backup every hour for 24 hours, and then once a week and once a month for archiving purposes, until the disk is full. The peace of mind that comes from knowing I have hourly backups for one day, and archived backups waiting in the wings, is quite amazing. It’s especially nice that once you have Time Machine configured, you pretty much just forget about it and let it do its job.

And if I ever had to restore from a backup, I’d just click on the Time Machine icon in the dock, and then the magic happens:

tm2.jpg

You just select the version of your system you want to restore from, and click-and-drag files or select “Restore” to restore the whole thing. It’s simple — but oh, the visual effects. Cheesy beyond belief. Apple, come on — what happened to the simple, minimalist design I’ve come to love from you guys? Moving stars in the background? Please.

Apart from the cheesiness of the visuals, there are some issues with how Time Machine works on my system which might be common to others.

First of all, my laptop gets hot when Time Machine is running. Really hot — it actually becomes uncomfortable to use the machine because of the heat, and who knows what it’s doing to the insides of the computer. Here’s an iStat nano readout on the temperatures of the laptop under normal use without the Time Machine running a backup:

hot-mac-3.jpg

And here’s what it reads when Time Machine is running a backup:

hot-mac.jpg

That’s a 40-degree temperature swing on the CPU, and that temperature is pushing the boiling point. Macbook laptops were known to run hot when they first came out, but Apple released a firmware update that fixed the problem, and I had not noticed any unusual heating since then — until now. This may be because I am using a particular USB drive — or just a USB drive, period.

Second, the laptop slows down noticeably when the backups are being made. Again, could be because of my use of a USB drive, but I’ve never noticed a slowdown before when using this drive.

Third, I noticed that every time Time Machine attempts to make a backup, it is backing up about 16 GB of information. I know I don’t have that much stuff I use regularly on the hard drive, so I tried to tell Time Machine not to back up certain things. Apple supposedly has this covered, saying on their Time Machine page that

By default, Time Machine backs up everything on your Mac. But if you want to exclude certain files, that’s easy enough. Just go to Time Machine preferences, click Options, then select the folders you wish to skip. You can also delete a single file or folder that you’ve been backing up — and delete it from all of your backups going back in time.

So I tried to tell Time Machine not to backup my Parallels Desktop folder, which has a full installation of Windows XP that I don’t care to keep backed up all the time. That ought to knock a few gigabytes off the backup list. But here’s what I get when I follow Apple’s directions:

time-machine-excluding-folders.jpg

Everything’s grayed out — I can’t select anything to exclude! If I try an end-around to get to my Documents folder by going through Macintosh HD > Users, I get this: files-2.jpg

All the folders I want to enter are denied.

The 16 GB size of each download, coupled with the less-than-optimum speed of file transfer using the USB drive, means that each backup takes 20-25 minutes to complete — and only 35-40 minutes until the next one, which in turn means that about half the time my laptop is running hot and slow because of the near-constant backing up.

Any hints or suggestions on how to fix the heat problem, the slowness problem, or the can’t-select-files-not-to-backup problem would be most appreciated.

So Time Machine definitely solves a serious problem for me and other busy people — the problem of making the time to have regular, frequent, systematic backups of our important data. But it comes at a price, at least in the meanwhile until I figure out how to work around the problems.

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A week with Leopard

Since I was sort of taking the week off from posting new material last week, I didn’t write much about my experiences with Mac OS X Leopard, which I put on the Macbook last Monday. The only thing was this report about troubles with Maple 10 on Leopard. As an update to that, I still haven’t gotten Maple 10 to fire up, and Maplesoft seems unwilling or unable to offer any substantive information on what’s happening. I only got one email that said they don’t support Leopard, and that I should reinstall the software. So, not really very helpful, and for all practical purposes the software is MIA.

Apart from that, Leopard has been an overall positive experience. The installation went fine, although stories about getting the Blue Screen of Death had me worried. I haven’t plumbed all 300+ new features of the OS yet, and perhaps I never will. But there are several standout features, which stand out both for their goodness and their not-so-goodness.

From an overall look-and-feel standpoint, Leopard is somewhat uneven but overall the plusses outweigh the minuses. A lot of people are apparently complaining about the semi-transparent task bar, but mine is perfectly legible:

leopard-1.jpg

I’m using the wallpaper that looks like a bunch of rocks; maybe if you use a lighter background it’s harder to see the stuff on your bar. But I don’t have any problems here. Another feature people haven’t liked is the 3D dock. Here’s mine (click to enlarge):

leopard-2.jpg

I don’t see why we needed a 3D dock, but I don’t have much to complain about. I’m not terribly keen on the little glowing blue orbs underneath the active applications; what was wrong with the simple black triangles from Tiger?

The one seriously questionable aspect of the 3D dock, and really one of the biggest flaws in the overall human factors side of Leopard, is the way stacks are represented in the dock. I like the concept of stacks and the visual way they “fan” out files:

leopard-5.jpg

But what I don’t like is how each stack is visually represented by a thumbnail of the most recently-opened file from the stack. Here, for example, are the three stacks I have on my dock. One is for Downloads, another for Research Reading, and another that just goes to my Documents folder. And that’s not in order from left to right.

leopard-3.jpg

The problem with these icons is that there’s no real information conveyed by them. When I look at those three icons, unless I already knew which stack was which or unless I wanted to take the time to hover my cursor over each one, the little picture does not tell me what the stacks are. Is the one on the middle for Downloads, Documents, or Research Reading? Note that the fairly-clear “RTF” label doesn’t help in identifying the stack; all of the three stacks I have are equally likely to be so represented. It would have been much better if there were a way to assign icons, or custom-make icons, for these stacks for quick visual identification. As it is, with my memory being what it is, I am going to have to have very few of these stacks and memorize what order they come in.

Back on the positive side, I’m becoming a big fan of Cover Flow in the revamped Finder:

leopard-4.jpg

It’s a little slow to use Cover Flow because all those images have to be loaded. But the time is made up, for me at least, because I can visually identify the document I want by seeing a thumbnail of it much faster than I can by identifying the file name.

Cover Flow also allows me to use Quick Look which has been a great time-saver for me. I run so many different applications on my Macbook that I frequently end up with two or even three dozen applications open at any given time, which drains the battery and slows the system down. Being able to Quick Look a document lets me peek in and see, literally, if that’s the right one, without actually starting the application that runs it.

Just one question about Quick Look for those who might know: Why doesn’t my Finder window have the little “eye” icon at the top for Quick Look? (See the clickable screenshot above.) All the Finder windows in the tutorials and on the Apple site have this icon. I don’t really need it (just hit space bar for Quick Look) but it makes me paranoid.

This article’s gone on long enough but I am not quite done yet. So later I’ll have a second article and possibly more; the next one will deal with Time Machine and my adventures in setting up and using it.

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