back up

Update on New MacBook Pro

As some of you may remember, my 2011 MacBook Pro died a little over a week ago while I was away from home. I posted about it here and then an update here.

I determined that the problem was the video card in the computer and that the internal SSD with my data on it was secure. When I got back home I removed the SSD from the computer, put it in a spare firewire enclosure and booted my wife’s 13″ MacBook Pro from the SSD. It worked well while I waited for my newly-ordered 15″ MacBook Pro to arrive although I must say, it would be rough to run my life on a 13″ screen and that’s nice to know.

My backup scheme

I’ve been backing up various Macintosh computers using this scheme for many years now.

I use SuperDuper to make a complete backup of the internal SSD or HDD of my computer onto a portable external hard disk. This backup is bootable so that if something happens to my computer I can boot another computer from the backup. I’ve been using various vintages of LaCie Rugged drives.

I have two of these external hard disks and rotate them from one day to the next keeping one in our basement in a fireproof box. We heat our house with wood and if it burnt down, well, I’d be in trouble in more ways than one but at least I’d have data from the day before.

I also use Apple’s Time Machine to back up my computer onto a large hard disk. I’ve never used Time Machine to retrieve an earlier version of a file I’ve mistakenly thrown out or modified but in fact, that’s exactly what it’s for, among other things.

All three of these drives are spinning hard disks of various vintages with various interfaces although for the most part Firewire 800.

So, when my computer died I was well backed up. I had:

1. My computer’s internal SSD which I removed from its “dead” shell and put in an enclosure with two Firewire 800 ports on it.

2. Two SuperDuper Backups, one of them left in Connecticut when I went to LA, the other in LA with me and current to within an hour of when my old machine died and could not be used anymore. Both Rugged drives with two Firewire 800 ports, one USB 3 port.

3. The Time Machine backup in Connecticut which was, at the time of “death” a few days old. It’s in a LaCie Little Big Disk enclosure with two Firewire 800 ports, an eSATA port, and a USB 2 port.


I’ve had all of these hard disks for a few years or more now and since my dead computer is from 2011, it seems the world has moved on from what I’ve been using.

New Retina MacBook Pros have two Thunderbolt ports and two USB 3 ports on them. It seems the the world of USB has changed considerably since I last looked. In the old days, USB (2) was a slow and at times rather flakey Intel standard for connecting peripherals like mice, printers, and such. A USB (2) hard disk was not something many of us ever got into. USB was just too slow and not reliable enough for data transfer like that. And, we had Firewire, first 400 and then 800 which was fast and reliable.

But, time marches on and Apple has adopted USB 3 for slower speed connections and Thunderbolt for high speed connections. If you shop around, external hard drives or SSDs with Thunderbolt ports on them are not all that plentiful and they’re expensive.

Shop around for USB 3 external hard disks or external SSDs and the price comes way down.

In terms of speed, USB 3 is supposed to be considerably faster than Firewire 800 and not as fast as Thunderbolt. However, for my purposes: backing up my computer, I’m guessing that USB 3 drives and/or SSDs will be great. That’s a guess, I don’t have any experience with them yet.

I’ll know later today when I do my first SuperDuper backup onto one of my older LaCie Rugged drives via USB 3 for the first time. I may come back and write a bit more here.

Here I am, later: the backup was very slow but it’s tough to know exactly why. There was a lot of new stuff on this new computer: a completely new system and more. So, another USB 3 backup test is in order on the same drive tomorrow (I won’t swap this time, preferring to see if USB 3 will work for this application).

Update: Next day and I just did another SuperDuper backup to the same external LaCie Rugged drive via USB 3. It took 6 minutes and 42 seconds to complete the entire thing. I don’t think Firewire 800 ever came close to that. Granted, not a lot has changed on this machine between backups but I’m guessing USB 3 is faster than Firewire, probably fast enough for this kind of backup and occasional boot situation.

My plan is to buy at least one if not two new drives: one for my Time Machine backup and another to rotate into my SuperDuper backups. I’d love it if they could be USB 3 which will be a lot less expensive.

I’ll reformat my old SSD and put it in my wife’s computer which will turn it into a sports car.

New MacBook Pro

My new computer arrived yesterday (Monday) and before opening the box I did one last backup of my SSD (primary drive running my wife’s computer) to one of my backup drives just to be on the safe side. My plan was to boot the new computer, go through the setup process and during initial setup do the migration so as not to have to do it after the fact, possibly creating an extra user in OSX (which I’m told happens more than not).

Before opening the box of the new computer, I completely cleaned off my desk, removing my older USB (2) hub and everything associated with the old computer. I knew there would be some setup and possibly some bumps and I wanted to not have too much legacy stuff around to have to sort through. Also, good excuse to clean things up around here and sort through the wires hanging behind my desk.

I had ordered a Thunderbolt to Firewire adaptor from Apple but it was not listed on the email invoice they sent me so I figured I must have unchecked it when I placed the order. So as not to have to wait, I bought one from Amazon and had it overnighted here. I had also ordered an Apple external CD/DVD drive as the new MacBook Pros don’t have built in drives and I still rip DVD movies from time to time. Yes, I could have bought an enclosure for the drive in my old machine but in my panic out in LA I just went for it so I have the new drive. It’s very pretty, worth having.

When I opened the box of the new MacBook Pro Apple (in China) had placed the Thunderbolt to Firewire adaptor under the little package that contains the print instructions and cleaning cloth. There was no mention of this anywhere and initially I thought maybe they include this with all new computers. Odd really.

The new machine is spectacular: the ports are much better placed (and on both sides of the chassis) than the older models and the screen is, well, it’s a new Retina screen and while the screen on my old computer was a higher resolution matte screen (not the glossy one) this one is far better in every way. For those of you concerned about the older reflective screen Apple had on MacBook Pros, this Retina screen is flat, no reflections at all which is a great relief for me as I’m very distracted by reflection. The machine has a very nice fit and finish and is sleeker and lighter than the old unibody chassis models.

I have absolutely no regrets about this purchase. It was expensive but this machine is the center of my life so well worth the investment.


Turned on the new machine, chose language, network, etc. and got to the screen that asks about migration.

Listed on this screen are:

1. Migrate from another Macintosh computer
2. Migrate from a Time Machine backup
3. Migrate from a Windows computer
4. Migrate from a networked server

Given that I had the internal SSD, still named “Macintosh HD” in an enclosure I chose “from another Macintosh,” plugged in the cable and nothing happened. The SSD turned on, its light flashed, and Migration Assistant said it was looking for a drive but it never found one. Had the drive been in my Mac, I’m remembering that Migration Assistant sends a code to the old machine that one must type in to make the connection. Of course, my old machine had no working screen so this was impossible.

I disconnected the SSD/Enclosure and connected my latest SuperDuper backup, a Firewire hard disk. I would rather have used the SSD as it’s considerably faster for this long process but no problem, I have a backup for a reason.

The drive spun up, the icon appeared in Migration Assistant but the “next” arrow never lit up which means it was never recognized correctly. I waited 10 minutes, nothing happened. Maybe if I’d waited 11 minutes it would have worked, I’m not sure.

Now I started to get worried.

Consider this: If your computer dies it matters not a bit if the screen is any good or the keyboard or the motherboard, the part of your computer that you need for your new computer is the internal storage, in this case the SSD. I had that but in fact, it was useless without the computer’s shell for doing this migration. This really is short sighted on Apple’s part and even after talking with an AppleCare support person I’m less than happy about it.

It very well may be that there’s a way to force Migration Assistant to recognize a backup drive or an internal drive in an external enclosure but the AppleCare support person didn’t know how to do it and I could not find mention of it on the internet (I was frantically using my iPad to try to sort this out).

In fact, what the AppleCare support person told me is that I’d need a Time Machine backup to do the migration from an external drive. I had one, although it was now a week old.

So, I reconnected the SSD to my wife’s 13″ MacBook Pro, booted it, then daisy chained my Time Machine drive onto it (a reason Firewire and Thunderbolt are useful, USB 3 without a hub is not), went through a few setup bumps as Time Machine didn’t recognize this configuration and finally got it started. It took a few hours to do its thing and I left the room, frustrated but hoping this would work or else I was really in trouble.

Here’s Apple’s white paper on this: How to migrate data from another Mac using Mavericks.

Once the Time Machine backup was complete I connected that drive to the new MacBook Pro and initially it didn’t look like Migration Assistant was going to recognize it either but after five minutes the “Next” arrow lit up and I was able to get to the screen for determining what needed migrating (everything).

Migration took about 2.5 hours and went fine. I’ve not poked into every nook and cranny on the new machine but it looks like everything is in place as it should be.

Settling in

Unfortunately doing a complete migration from an old machine to a new one is not the end of setting up a new computer. What migrates is your collection of applications in the Applications folder, your user folder and any odd stuff you have scattered about. But, the actual system folder does not migrate which is good in that you get a fresh system to start out with, less than good in that you have to reinstall a bit of stuff.

I have three printers:

Dymo LabelWriter 450 that I connect to my computer via a USB 2 cable. I went to the Dymo site and downloaded the latest Macintosh drivers and application. My saved templates were migrated with my user folder so it was relatively easy to get this printer back in business. A thermal label printer is an incredibly useful device to have and I’ve been using one form or another of this printer for a very long time.

HP LaserJet 1022n connected to our AirPort Extreme base station for wireless printing. Very simple to use Apple’s Printers and Scanners Prefs Panel to add the printer and get a new version of its driver.

Epson Stylus Pro 3880 which is the printer I use for doing fine art photo printing. This printer is excellent but Epson tends to not be very Mac friendly. I got the driver reinstalled and got the printer working fine but in the process I found that there is a firmware update for the printer. The utility they offer to update the printer’s firmware continuously crashed on my computer. So, I still need to get that sorted or forget about it as the printer has worked well for many years.

I use Apple’s Pages and Numbers applications and occasionally Keynote. I use Numbers as my main spreadsheet and Pages to construct the templates for my fine art notecards. I have a lot of work committed to those applications.

When the new versions were released I tried them but they were missing features I wanted and so, up until yesterday I had continued to use the old versions. However, the new computer comes with the new versions pre-installed and the older versions did not migrate over. So, I could copy the older versions over or try (again) the new ones. It seems Apple has been listening to users because the new versions of these applications are excellent and I’ve already converted a lot of my important files to the new file format. Plus, if I’m of a mind (at the moment I’m not) I can easily share files with the same applications on my iPad or iPhone via iCloud.

Passwords and such

I usually forget to tell iTunes that my old computer is dead/gone and it needs to be “de-authorized” so that I don’t use up the five authorization slots with computers and/or devices that no longer exist.

The easy way to deal with this is to run iTunes and de-authorize everything, then authorize the new computer, which is what I did today.

I’ve been using 1Password to redo all of my important passwords making each of them complex, different, and hopefully impossible to hack. It’s been a chore I’ve been working on for a month now and while I’m not finished I’ve got the important stuff done: Apple ID, iCloud, Gmail, among many others.

These passwords are what I call “garbage.” Not because they’re no good, but because they’re seemingly random letters in different cases, numbers, and a bit of punctuation. Impossible to remember which means once you go this way you are completely reliant on 1Password.

One of the reasons I avoided this for a while is I was scared that if 1Password failed or I got locked out of it somehow I’d be in trouble. And, what about sharing your passwords with your other devices? My 1Password password (the one I use to get into it) is not a garbage password but its complex enough so it would be tough to hack.

So, I’ve been using both iCloud Keychain and 1Password on my Mac, on my iPad, and on my iPhone and while they’re not perfect, the entire setup is working well and I feel a bit safer than I did before.

Here’s a tip (thanks Edward) for anyone who’s read this far: How do you get the “garbage” password you’ve set as your Apple ID into Apple TV? Copying it from your iPad and “typing” it onto that awful alphabetic keyboard on your TV is a real drag. Download Apple’s free Remote app for the iPhone or iPad and then, open 1Password on the iPhone or iPad, copy your Apple ID password, then open Remote while you’re connected to Apple TV and its asking you for the new password and paste it into Remote. It’s fast and simple and if you use Remote for no other purpose, this is worth it. You can do this with Netflix passwords as well.

After the migration was finished and I started using the new computer various apps I had previously bought from the Mac App store wanted my Apple ID password to run so there was a bunch of that. And, the mess that is iMessage (please, fix this mess in Yosemite Apple) required passwords for each of my three messaging accounts, and so on.

I’m sure I’m not done with this password settling in process but the bulk of it is over and I must say, 1Password was extremely helpful.

I love the new computer and while the entire migration wasn’t as smooth as it might have been, here I am, hopefully on the other side of the bulk of it.

I’ve learned quite a bit in the process, didn’t get too worked up when what I thought was going to happen didn’t, and during all of this was able to keep up with my digital life on various other computers and iOS devices.

Life is good, again.

The Computer Backup Rule of Three

The Computer Backup Rule of Three

Scott Hanselman’s rationale is excellent. I don’t follow all of it but the post and the comments following are all worth reading.

If you don’t back up your computer or your mobile devices you’re looking for trouble, simple as that. Hard disks fail and short of that, operating systems fail.

What I do:

1. I have two external bus-powered, small, portable LaCie firewire 800 drives that I use SuperDuper! with to back up my entire computer.

On day 1 I use SuperDuper! back up to drive 1 and put it in a fireproof box in our basement.

On day 2 I use SuperDuper! to back up to drive 2 and when it’s done I take it to the basement and swap it with drive 1 which comes back up stairs and goes in my desk drawer.

On day 3 I back up over drive 1 (using SuperDuper!’s “smart backup” to just update the new stuff, etc.), then take it to the basement and swap it with drive 2 in the fireproof box.

I repeat this daily, even if I don’t use my computer for anything significant. This way I don’t think about what’s backed up when, I just know that the most I could lose is a day of work.

2. At the same time I’m doing my SuperDuper! backups I’m doing twice a day Time Machine backups onto another LaCie external hard disk (a bigger one to hold the growing Time Machine collection of days).

3. The only cloud backup I have isn’t really backup, it’s iCloud and it’s just my contacts, my email, my calendar, and a few other things. I use gmail (cloud based) and have a .me mail account (cloud based) so my email lives outside of my house.

I’ve been using this method for years and it’s saved my bacon numerous times.

The important thing to consider in both backing up and in deciding which methods you want to use is this: If your computer dies or is stolen, how fast can you be back up and in business. My SuperDuper! cloned backups will boot any modern Macintosh and so, all I have to do is boot my wife’s MacBook Pro with the most recent of my backup drives and that computer is essentially mine with all of my stuff exactly the way it was when I backed it up. Then, I can go to an Apple store, buy a new MacBook Pro (or have mine fixed if it’s fixable) and use SuperDuper! to backup back over it, or, leave the new native system on it and migrate all of my stuff back.

There is no perfect method for doing this stuff, the important thing is to do it and work out a method that works for you and that you’ll use on a regular basis.