Monthly Archives: October 2007

Time Machine almost makes backups fun

OS X Leopard has a fantastic new feature called automated backups. They called it Time Machine and gave it an imaginative cosmic interface but it’s nothing more than a backup service at heart.

Setting up Time Machine was delightfully easy: I started Time Machine and it asked for a location to store backups. I plugged a Firewire drive into the laptop and clicked its icon. I was momentarily put off when I had no choice in the matter of whether to reformat the drive; I thought it meant I would not be able to use the drive normally but I was wrong. I guess it just needed Apple’s journaled file system. Less than an hour later, all of my files were backed up and for the first time in ages, I felt inviolable against data loss.

As long as I leave the backup drive plugged in, Time Machine makes an incremental backup each hour. If I unmount and unplug the drive, Time Machine patiently waits for the next time I attach the hard drive and then quietly resumes its duties.

I tested the file restoration facility by deleting and restoring a few files. You probably saw the interface already, so I won’t recap the Apple hype here. What I found really nice was that I could be looking at a folder in Finder and when I invoked Time Machine (via Quicksilver, which I won’t link here because their server has been down all weekend) that folder was conveniently selected. I also liked that I could see the deleted pictures in Cover Flow mode without having to restore them first. This is much, much nicer than the Windows XP Recycle Bin.

The cosmic interface works well but I don’t like that I can’t resize the Finder window to more than about half the screen. The Time Machine cosmos is an unabashed screen hog. That’s my only complaint and it’s a small one.

Another perk with Time Machine, which Steve Jobs did not deem sexy enough for his demo, is the way the backup archives are mounted. You can browse each hourly snapshot the same way you browse your hard drive, whether you prefer Finder or Terminal or something else. Here are mine:

Time Machine archives

I will spare Apple the “what took you so long” diatribe and just say that it was worth the wait. Thanks, Apple.

Apple Keyboard (Aluminum) keycap removal

I decided to switch around my new Apple Keyboard to use the Dvorak layout. I didn’t find any resources when I searched, so here are photos and directions. It worked for me but I can’t guarantee your success. Research the cost and availability of replacement parts before attempting.

All of the keys that must be moved to convert the new aluminum keyboard to the Dvorak layout have their scissors arranged this way. The two clips along the top of the keycap hold onto the bars near the top of the scissors. These must be pulled free. Then the lower tabs are released by moving the key toward the upper edge of the keyboard; turning the keyboard face down helps.

I found these easier to remove than the keycaps on the MacBook Pro—I didn’t break any of the scissors this time! Also, the scissors appear to be harder to replace as a result of their stronger design. If you break one, leave a note to help others avoid the same outcome.

Keycap Removal

  1. Slide a thin, non-marring tool such as a fingernail under the top edge of the keycap.
  2. Depress the bottom edge of the keycap.
  3. Rotate the keycap up with increasing pressure until the two top clips are released from the scissor.
  4. Invert the keyboard and jiggle the key to release the lower hinges.

Keycap Replacement

  1. Drop the keycap into place.
  2. Jiggle the key to seat the lower pivots.
  3. Press down with increasing pressure until the top clips click into place.

Wisdom of the Ages

I just got off the phone with an old friend who moved away when we were in middle school. We hadn’t really talked in more than sixteen years. He reminded me of something I said when we were eleven years old, sitting in detention after school:

Grades show what you’re doing, not what you can do.

I was being a wise-ass but my friend took it as wisdom.

Let me reconstruct the scene for you. Our project was due that week and we had made no progress. The teacher recognized us as the brightest kids in the class and she was terribly disappointed whenever we slacked off. She would lecture us about our “potential” every time an assignment failed to captivate our attention—more often than not. This time she insisted that we show some effort.

The teacher balanced her grading system on two independent values: quantity of effort and quality of work. A deficit in either value could be made up by a surplus in the other. A student producing poor work could score well by virtue of having put forth sufficient effort. Contrariwise, we aimed to produce brilliant work with little effort. In this way we spent less of our valuable youth on boring sixth grade assignments and yet came away with ample grades for advancement.

(Notwithstanding the Marxist underpinnings of her grading system, our strategy had its own Achilles Heel: effort at study is an effective tool for impressing knowledge onto young minds. By avoiding effort, we circumvented our lessons while producing “evidence” of our successful learning. Any rebellion against education will succeed against learning.)

We got the grades we needed but the teacher chided us for merely “sliding by” whenever our work was less than brilliant. In her frame of reference we were flaunting the worst sort of insolence. Yet in spite of her lectures, we would not compromise. We had discovered a strategy that let us win the game of school without cheating and we felt we deserved praise for this accomplishment. This was our potential.

Good for a laugh in the morning

I bought a brand-new, old-fashioned, man-powered, arm-numbing, sweat-breaking lawn mower today. No fuel, no plug, pure fun. The blades don’t chop down the taller stuff so it’s a good thing that I also bought a trimmer. I mowed until it was dark so I don’t know how bad it looks but I’m sure it’s not good. I knew better than to mow the lawn after dark but I was having too much fun to quit. Every step made me appreciate that square foot of land.

“You ain’t no kind of man if you ain’t got land.” (Who said that?)

I’m sure the exhilaration of lawn mowing will wear off tomorrow morning when I try to finish the job and find my arms too heavy to lift.