• Newsletter Issue #514

    October 4th, 2009


    Let me put my cards on the table. For me, iTunes 9 is a neat app, but not one in which I stretch its boundaries. So while I appreciate all the changes Apple has infused into it, it’s not that it matters all that much at the end of the day. My movie content arrives courtesy of Blu-ray DVDs rented from Netflix.

    I’m also one of those old fashioned people who prefers the CD for musical purchases, although I’ll occasionally make a few impulse buys on iTunes. I like having the physical disc at hand, and prefer the preprinted booklets to the ones I could reproduce on my own printer, using my own ink and paper. And, yes, I can sometimes hear a slight difference between CD audio and an iTunes Plus download.

    Of course, this doesn’t stop me from ripping a CD with iTunes, and having it downloaded to my iPhone. It comes down to the ultimate question of quality versus convenience, and I think most of you lean towards the latter. Even though I have a decent sound system in my car, I don’t think it matches the one I have at home, and I don’t regard an auto as the best acoustic environment regardless of what kind of equipment you have installed.

    In any case, with iTunes 9 regarded as a major upgrade, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, author and commentator Kirk McElhearn, someone who is more concerned about such matters, came on to explain what he likes — and especially what he doesn’t like — about iTunes 9.

    Former Macworld editors Jim Dalrymple and Peter Cohen joined us to talk about their new online venture, The Loop, a site that covers all things Apple. They’ll also provided their insights into whether Apple will build a tablet computer and other newsworthy topics.

    If you’ve ever accidentally deleted a file from your Mac’s hard drive, or suffered from a hard drive problem, you’ll want to hear about the various recovery solutions from Omer Faiyaz, of Disk Doctors. More about that subject in another article (see below).

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, join us for a very special, exclusive interview with veteran UFO researcher and scientist Ray Stanford, who will talk about his extensive work regarding the Socorro UFO case and his book “Socorro ‘Saucer’ in a Pentagon Pantry.”Paranormal researcher Christopher O’Brien will also be participating in this historic episode.

    Coming October 11: You asked for it! UFO researcher Bill Chalker, author of such books as “Hair of the Alien: DNA and Other Forensic Evidence of Alien Abductions.”

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


    Let me put all this in perspective. When I first began to use a Mac in the 1980s, it was difficult to work a full day without having a system crash. Indeed, I remember setting up a new Mac IIcx at my home office back in 1989, and having it freeze within 15 minutes after the initial boot. That was before I launched a single application, so the computer was idle when it happened.

    Now I can’t say all of my Mac experiences were that bad and, in fact, the version of System 6 I was soon replaced by a later one, which proved noticeably more stable.

    In the 1990s, the Mac OS was really becoming long in the tooth fast. The move to System 7, in 1991, was supposed to herald a new era of color support and ease of use. But you’d easily hit the rough spots, although the Restart button in the crash warning prompt would sometimes work for once.

    It’s fascinating, in retrospect, to see Microsoft using the “System 7” label at times to refer to Windows 7, as if the very mention of Windows was itself a negative. Strange, though, that they’d crib the name of a Mac OS version that was distinctive only in encouraging Apple that it was time to move on and develop a truly industrial-strength operating system.

    The behind-the-scenes soap opera that resulted in the purchase of NeXT Inc., and the return of Steve Jobs to Apple, doesn’t need to be repeated. It took several years to tame NeXTStep, a Unix-based operating system, and turn it into Mac OS X.

    While I don’t think many would dispute the fact that Mac OS X was, as a whole, far more reliable than its predecessor, things were hardly perfect. Each major upgrade was followed, a few weeks later, by one or more fixer-uppers to repair lingering bugs, some of which could be quite serious.

    When Leopard came out, it arrived with a toxic Finder defect that could actually corrupt a file when it was moved, rather than copied, to another drive or network share. I won’t say Apple’s quality control had lapsed seriously in the rush to release, after it was delayed a few months to allow developers to finish OS X for the iPhone. Maybe it was one of those issues that slips below the radar because the function that triggered such dangerous misbehavior wasn’t normally run by most Mac users.

    However, Leopard’s troubles didn’t end there. While I encountered few difficulties, there were lingering Wi-Fi bugs and other matters that required several more updates to address Things eventually settled down, but I bet some of you remain committed to Leopard’s predecessor, Tiger, because it seemed more stable.

    As an early adopter, I rushed to Snow Leopard. Yes my fingers were crossed, but no matter. Besides, I had two full backups in case something went wrong, but it didn’t. Yes, Apple rushed a 10.6.1 to market to deal with problems infecting Mail and other apps, along with third party products, but I never encountered any of the issues that were fixed.

    Update! Indeed, the Snow Leopard experience has, for me, been quite seamless. I cannot think of a single issue that prevents me from getting my work done. But that doesn’t mean that Snow Leopard is necessarily perfect. There are still reports of some lingering bugs, which will no doubt be addressed in future updates. There are, in fact, rumors that a 10.6.2 maintenance release is presently undergoing development.

    The real issues affecting Snow Leopard users can largely be blamed on third-party products. While there may be compatibility questions that only Apple can fix in cooperation with other developers, this state of affairs is quite normal. Although the look and feel of 10.6 isn’t significantly different from Leopard, there are an incredible number of changes to the system plumbing. It’s quite easy for some of those changes to break someone’s app.

    That raises the next question, which is why should this happen? Aren’t developers given a chance to test prerelease Apple system releases before they go on sale?

    Recently I read a pathetic commentary from a particularly ignorant tech writer who claimed that Apple only sent out betas of Snow Leopard to book authors, but otherwise kept things to themselves. If you ask any of the tens of thousands of registered Apple developers, you’ll find that’s just not true.

    But that doesn’t guarantee full compatibility from Day One. During the development process, some features and functions of the new operating system may be moving targets. This means that programmers may have to wait until near the end of the process before things settle down enough for them to begin to finalize their work. It’s also possible that Apple will insert a last-minute change that will break the previous fix. What this means is that developers often prefer to wait until they have the final release in hand for testing before they release a product update.

    Even if they know what’s wrong with the app, that doesn’t mean compatibility can be achieved in a few days or weeks. It may actually take a few months to get it all together. I realize that news may not be terribly encouraging if you want to use the third-party app with Snow Leopard. The level of functionality you achieve might vary and it may not be worth the bother.

    All this means is that the decision to upgrade to Snow Leopard should be made with caution. Yes, it works great for me, and the same appears to be true for most of the millions of Mac users who rushed to install 10.6. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check with the publishers of your most critical apps to make sure there are no issues that would hurt your productivity.

    You see, nobody is forcing you to install Snow Leopard. There is no harm in waiting. Sure, the situation is different if you buy a new Mac with Snow Leopard preloaded. Then the possibility of a system downgrade may be little to none, depending on how recent a model you’ve got.

    In any case, I know that any lingering stability issues will be seized upon by Windows advocates as evidence that Apple has lost site of the goal post. Microsoft is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to promote Windows 7, and they are not above lying about the competition.

    Regardless of what you see and hear, the final decision of what to do is yours. And, yes, I mean that you shouldn’t take what I say as the last word either. I don’t.


    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I preach the backup religion, and you can call me fanatical on the subject. My daily backup routine includes those hourly Time Machine operations, working with the 2TB Apple Time Capsule that I’m currently reviewing. An additional “clone” back is done nightly courtesy of SuperDuper!, from Shirt Pocket, one of my favorite backup utilities.

    But that’s not the entire picture. What if something happens to your home, perhaps the result of a fire or natural disaster, such as a flood? So the next element of a proper backup regimen is an offsite copy of your most important files. You can, if you wish, simply buy a cheap USB or FireWire backup drive, copy your stuff, and take it over to a friend, or deposit in a bank vault. You will want to update it regularly, and that’s where problems might arise, since it’s so easy to just put off.

    Another method is the online backup, where files are pushed into the cloud and available in case of an emergency. The limitation, however, is speed. I’m sure very few of you actually have a broadband capability that would send those files at a reasonable clip, particularly if you have several hundred gigabytes of data, as I do.

    In light of the fact that our local cable company, Cox, finally got my broadband troubles resolved and upgraded me to their new Ultimate Internet — rated at 55 megabits downloads and 5.5 megabits uploads — I signed up with CrashPlan, considered one of the better online backup repositories.

    Even with the higher upload speeds, it’ll take many nights to send all the files to CrashPlan’s servers. Fortunately, they prioritize the files you have used most recently in choosing what to backup, which will ease the process of recovery should the process not complete before the worst happens.

    But what if you accidentally erase a file before the backup is made? It doesn’t help to have two apps and online backup if the damage was done before you could get a reasonably up-to-date duplicate? That takes us to the process of actually recovering the file, and fortunately there are ways to accomplish that trick.

    You see, when you delete a file on your Mac or PC, you are actually just removing the entry in your hard drive’s table of contents. It simply makes the space occupied by that file as available for new files. If you continue to work on your computer, you risk actually overwriting the file, and then no recovery method will succeed.

    At this point, you’ll want to get ahold of a recovery app and get started recovering the file or files. For that, you will want to check out Disk Doctors. They have file recovery apps for the Mac, PC and even Linux and other Unix-based flavors. At $179, their Mac Data Recovery Software is a little higher than you might expect to pay for what appears to be a single-purpose utility. On the other hand, you can’t put a price on a critical file that you lost. More to the point, the Disk Doctors recovery app will also work on a drive with directory damage, even one that you may have accidentally erased. This is serious business!

    The Mac Data Recovery Software uses a non-destructive process, according to the publisher, so that nothing is actually changed on the drive, whether it’s working fine or is defective. As powerful as it is, this app is easy to use and uses a Finder-style interface with which to view your recovered files. It’s also a Universal app, which works on both PowerPC and Intel Macs, and there’s even support for flash cards.

    But what happens if the drive is too far gone, and you can’t recover all your lost or damaged files? In that event, your remaining solution, if you don’t have a backup, is to use a data recovery service. It’s not a cheap affair, but there’s usually a high rate of success. Disk Doctors happens to have a network of recovery labs around the U.S. and Canada, where you can send your drive for a clean room recovery process.

    In the end, though, your best solution is to backup now, backup tonight, and backup every single day that you create files that you need to preserve.


    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #514”

    1. SteveP says:

      I’m curious. (That’s NOT what I meant! 🙂 )
      When my hard drive died, I think it was the HD mechanism that failed. It MIGHT have taken all the data with it, but I have no way of knowing. (And no back-up, but most was ‘home’ – non-critical data.)
      On all the “CSI” type shows they appear to show removing the actual disk and placing that in another good, functional drive. How realistic might this be for the home user? How hard or worthwhile might it be to buy a new HD (that you would need anyway), swap the disk from the old one and try to read and copy the data, possibly using data recovery software?
      Is this essentially fictional for the average – non FBI 🙂 – user?

    2. SteveP says:

      I suspected as much, thanks.
      MY room is so UN-clean I would probably lose all the drive parts among the mess! 🙂

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