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  • Newsletter Issue #388

    May 7th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    I don’t think many of you really expected Steve Jobs to write a blog (or have one released under his name) in which his company detailed plans to make the company carbon-neutral. That surprising news formed the topic of one of our discussions this week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    Joining us to talk about a greener Apple Inc. and, additionally, the confusing choices facing buyers of Windows Vista was Macworld Senior Editor Rob Griffiths.

    In addition, we presented the details of the faster, safer DNS offered by David Ulevitch of OpenDNS. During another segment of the show, author Steven Sande was on hand to talk about the newest edition of his best-selling e-book, “Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music.

    On to other subjects: Back when I first began reading about such things as UFOs, the conventional wisdom had it that they were either normal objects or spaceships. There was no other alternative. Of course, the official explanation has traditionally been that they are, if not a figment of your imagination, the former.

    Many of the people who came to believe in UFOs ultimately bought into the ETH, or extraterrestrial hypothesis. But over time, other theories arose, some even more unusual, such as the possibility that we were dealing with visitors from another dimension or another time. One theory has it that our “visitors” actually coexist with us right here on Earth — cryptoterrestrials if you will.

    There are some theories that even posit UFOs as originating from multiple sources.

    Indeed, one of our goals on The Paracast is to explore a number of possibilities for UFO origin. We want you listeners to decide for yourselves, of course, but we hope we can shed just a little light along the way.

    In that spirit, paranormal investigator Mac Tonnies returned for this week’s episode to explore space mysteries and possible Earth-based sources for UFOs. Are the strange things we see in the skies what we’re meant to see, or are they something else entirely that eludes our senses?

    A RELIGION FOR ALL MAC USERS: BACKUPS

    I have to tell you that, when Steve Jobs released some pathetic figures about the number of Mac users who backup their files, I wasn’t terribly surprised at the unfortunate news. You see, I’ve been preaching the backup religion for years, yet most of the people I know still never do it.

    Yes, I urge them, plead with them, but they tell me it’s just too hard, too confusing, and, besides, the chances that they’ll lose any files are just about zilch.

    Now it’s clear to me that they are just dead wrong in so many ways.

    The easiest way to lose a file is simply to delete it by mistake. Don’t think it can happen? Well, imagine you are in a rush to finish something, you have several versions of a file, and you dump the wrong one in the trash can. You empty the trash in a force of habit, and then, too late, you discover that you threw out the wrong file.

    Yes, there may be ways to recover that file, but why should you have to perform an undelete option that may not be entirely dependable?

    But that’s not the only reason why a recent backup is critical. Consider that the medium on which we put all our data, the hard drive, is a highly mechanical device that can break down unpredictably. Yes, there are product warranties, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll get your data back, only that the drive will be replaced at no cost to you.

    Your data? Well, go ahead and get a few price quotes on recovering your stuff from a 250GB drive, one that’s typical of today’s Macs, and you’ll understand that there are far more productive ways in which to spend your hard-earned money.

    In addition to accidental deletion and hard drive crashes, there’s theft, natural disaster; indeed, any number of reasons why your valuable files might be lost. Despite the dangers, last year Steve Jobs said that roughly one quarter of you use backups, and only a fraction of that number actually run backup software. Indeed, that’s a key reason why Apple added Time Machine to Leopard. But that’s not going to be of much use if you upgrade to Mac OS 10.5 this fall and don’t use it.

    To be perfectly fair, I’ve had very few hard drive breakdowns over the years, but I have mistakenly deleted files, and I recall a time or two where I had to rewrite an entire book chapter as a result. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience.

    These days, I usually run an incremental backup, containing all my changed files, approximately once a day. When I write an article or record an interview for one of my radio shows, I make at least two immediate backups. I try to take as few chances as possible.

    At times, I perform off-site backups as well, so if something nasty were to happen to my home office, I’d still be in business.

    If you check out the offerings at VersionTracker, you’ll find a rich selection of backup software. Not all of it is easy to use, but the best of the breed, such as SuperDuper! from Shirt Pocket Software, are remarkably easy to configure.

    Just the other day, for example, I decided it was time to perform an annual spring cleaning on my desktop Mac, a G5 Quad. That means backing up all my files, erasing the drive and restoring everything. SuperDuper! makes the process extremely simple and reliable, because it’s capable of making a clone of your Mac’s hard drive. That means the duplicate version works identically to the original, down to the smallest file. Even better, once you run your first backup, SuperDuper! speeds up subsequent backups by restricting its cloning process to cover just the files changed since your previous session. The feature is known as Smart Update.

    Indeed, this was one of the most trouble-free backup and restore operations I’ve ever done. First I made two clones of my hard drive, on a second internal device and on an external FireWire 800 drive. Each took about 20 minutes to finish, since I only needed to use SuperDuper!’s Smart Update feature on each drive. As part of one of the backup procedures, I set the application to restart on one of the cloned drives.

    From there, everything went quickly. Once my G5 had restarted on a cloned drive, I simply erased the original startup drive, and ran a cloned backup on it. SuperDuper!’s ultra-smooth interface was configured to restart from that drive once the process was complete.

    No, I didn’t time the process, because I didn’t hang around to babysit. I just went off to dinner, and when I returned to the office a few hours later, the G5 was running just fine on its newly restored startup drive.

    I could have done the very same thing had my internal drive failed, and I needed to install a replacement. Backups are neat that way. You should try one some time.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: A FOLLOW-UP ON THE XEROX PHASER 8550DP

    In a few articles last year, I gave stellar reviews to the Xerox Phaser 8550DP solid ink printer. Indeed, over the ensuing months, I felt extremely positive about my decision. Output quality, for example, is nothing short of superb with various documents, and only the best inkjet can exceed the 8550DP when it comes to reproducing high-quality photographs.

    However, it hasn’t been the most reliable product, and that’s a huge disappointment, although I’m not yet inclined to change my original five-owl rating.

    The first problem reared its ugly head a few weeks after I set up the device, when I noticed that it had problems handling envelopes in the multipurpose tray. I had to fiddle regularly with each envelope to induce the device to grab onto the envelope and complete the job.

    Finally, I contacted Xerox’s customer support people, who quickly dispatched a service person to repair the problem. Unfortunately, they also sent the wrong part, which meant a return visit a couple of days later. The offending component was a paper transport mechanism, and its replacement was accomplished in less than ten minutes while, in fact, I was busy taping a segment for one of the radio shows.

    The 8550DP behaved itself until just a couple of weeks ago, when I caught a message on its LCD display that it was out of yellow ink. Under these circumstances, you can still print documents, but you have to select Black and White in the printer driver.

    Well, I did check the ink supply, and there was an ample amount of yellow ink. Another message to Xerox brought the bad news, that it would require another in-house repair. Considering that the printer was now a few weeks past its one-year warranty, if I had to order this service in the retail channels, it would cost a whopping “$278 for the first 1/2 HR; $51 per each additional 15 minutes. Parts and taxes are additional.”

    We are talking, here, of spending an estimated $500 or more, assuming some internal parts required replacement. This on a product that can be purchased, brand new, for $1,299. There is, however, a later model that appears to have similar specs, the 8560DN, which lists for $999 and can be obtained at a street price of slightly over $900.

    Now I don’t know if such defects are typical of Xerox’s solid ink printer line, or I was just unlucky. Regardless, if you want to buy one of these printers, I’d suggest you seriously consider an extended warranty. You can, for example, extend the one-year warranty to three years for $359; you can get a four-year plan for $509, but apparently these policies must be purchased within the first 90 days of ownership. When you consider what even a single repair might cost over that period, that’s a real bargain.

    I’m also curious what sort of long-term experience you readers have had with workgroup color printers, from Xerox and other makers. Have you required costly repairs shortly after the warranty expired?

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #388”

    1. […] Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter. […]

    2. Dana Sutton says:

      Re backups:

      Yes, backups are important. I used to have a friend for an academic research project, the kind of backups they did involved a daily/weekly/monthly/annual routine with storage of duplicate tapes at two offsite locations. That sounds paranoid, but trust me, that’s how the pros do it. She gave me religion, my own routine isn’t a whole lot simpler.

      A couple of particular points. 1.) You really should consider offsite backup for important data (if you get robbed or your house burns down, you’ll probably lose your local backup device too). Get a .Mac account or use some similar commercial service. 2.) Yes, there is a lot of backup software out there, but one way to winnow out the bad ones is to consider the issue of notification. Once I used a particular brand of backup software and after several months accidentally discovered that all that time when I thought it was working right it wasn’t doing a damn thing. So I got religion about notification too. Don’t rely on software that merely creates logs, because you’ll be too lazy to consult your log on a regular basis. I use ChronoSynch because you can schedule automated backups and have it email you the results every time it executes (or fails to execute). If you are managing multiple computers, you can have each one email its own independent report. I also use Yummy for automated periodic uploads to my remote FTP server because Yummy is Growl-aware and puts up a message every time it performs an upload. Logs are a great help when you need to trouble-shoot, but for routine scheduled backups and/or uploads, a notification scheme is a must. I’ve mentioned a couple of specific products, there are probably others as well. But I wouldn’t consider any product without this feature. Including Apple’s forthcoming Time Machine, if it doesn’t have one.

    3. Adam says:

      Back ups:

      I support Mac users for a living. It used to be that when a machine came to my shop I would ask “Do you have a backup?” This simple question would inevitably lead to a conversation about the facts of (computing) life.

      Fact 1) All hard drives will fail one day, the only question is whether or not you are still using it at the time. Mechanical devices eventually all wear out, some sooner than others.
      Fact 2) An imminent hard drive failure will not necessarily exhibit symptoms ahead of time! The number of times I have taken in a machine to replace its superdrive, or RAM, whatever, and had a customer utter the phrase “I’m not worried about a backup, it’s not like my hard drive has failed” is astonishing. Heart attacks in 30-somethings are rare, almost always unpredicted, yet they do happen. Don’t kid yourselves, data recovery and bypass surgery are specialized services which General Practitioner’s offices are not equipped for.

      Time Machine looks like it will be very useful, but it has the danger of making people too complacent. What few have mentioned is the fact that to make a backup, you must have a 2nd storage device. The number of clients I have who “backup” to their primary internal hard drive is astounding. The point is to have that data on hand when that very drive fails. A large percentage of my clients (mostly home users) come in asking about a backup solution and then when they see that it involves buying another drive, or even a spindle of DVDs, they put it off until later. “Later” can be too late.
      There are a ton of good backup solutions out there. Everything from Disk Utility and .Mac, to SuperDuper, Carbon Copy Cloner, Retrospect, and many many others. Some can be kludgy and slow but they are still better than the scheme (not) used by the majority of computer owners.

      Now I ask my clients a different question, which you may want to ask yourselves:

      How recent is your latest backup?

    4. Jack Leckliter says:

      Don’t forget software installations that go awry and seriously mung your system, as a good reason for backups.

      I haven’t had a hard drive failure since the late 1990s probably, but I did have a few in the early to mid-1990s, and was always saved by a backup. But the thing I run into nowadays most often is third-party software developers (often primarily PC developers for whom the Mac version of their software is more of an afterthought) who don’t know how to write software properly for OSX.

      Last two vendors this has happened with have been Brother and Dymo, both with their labelmaker printer drivers. Their primary market of course is Windows, and Brother’s print driver and printer software (at the time I had one) were obviously ported from the PC version and looked and operated very crudely on the Mac. Brother’s did at least run without serious incident on OS9, but after installing the driver for OSX, it hosed part of my system software, so a complete restore from a cloned backup was necessary. I tried a later update of the driver when it became available, and the same thing happened. Same thing too, later, with Dymo’s labelmaker driver, and once again, a cloned backup saved the day. (I used to use Carbon Copy Cloner, now use SuperDuper.) It’s happened a few other times over the years with other software as well.

      Moral: Don’t trust third-party software from primarily-PC vendors just trying to milk the Mac for some extra bucks, without a good backup at the ready.

    5. Ilkka says:

      Just thought to leave a comment on Xerox Phaser printers. (I’m on my way now to search what might cause printer LCD screen to turn upside down. )

      I have experience on models 8200N (upgraded to DP) and later 8500. We have sort of love-hate -relationship with these. First 8200 was repaired (warranty..) definitely for more than its worth before Xerox decided to replace it. Even then we had to fight for replacement ink sticks that printer melted to waste tray.
      Eventually 8200 retired, due to some problem with ink melting that was so expensive to repair that quick decision to replace it with new model was made as we already had a stock of Phaser supplies.

      With 8500, old 8200 ink sticks can’t be used. (By shape. They did fit after some two minutes of belt sander work and printed ok.) Old double side printing upgrade didn’t fit, can’t even get upgrade for this specific model. Maintenance kit available only as standard version. A lot of options have been ripped out from software drivers.
      We are so definitely using non-xerox ink-sticks and even with them, buy sticks only in small quantities..

      Just heard that Xerox sends new display module for free.

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